Belonging in a Time of Isolation

Belonging in a Time of Isolation by KELLY KAPIC for The Gospel Coalition

We are created for communion with God and others—so what do we do in a time of social distancing? How do we experience connection during chronic shelter-in-place orders?

Many are looking to the flu pandemic of 1918 for understanding, but my mind keeps returning to the World War II bombings of London from September 1940 to May 1941.

While our current situation is not the same as being victims of a violent bombing campaign, there are some meaningful parallels. As others have said, the pandemic is waged by an invisible enemy. Rather than bombs falling from planes, we face microbes on surfaces or in the air we breathe. Rather than the horror of indiscriminate bombing destruction, we feel the panic of watching fellow humans die in our families and communities. The pandemic is not just affecting one city or one region; we are experiencing this shared trauma as the entire human race.

Award-winning journalist and war correspondent Sebastian Junger helpfully highlights the work of Charles E. Fritz in the book Tribe. Fritz, an American sociologist and early developer of disaster research, was posted in England by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. His task was to understand if the “London Blitz” and then later, the massive bombings in Berlin, were effective. Fritz found that, rather than destroying morale, the opposite transpired. Communities subjected to bombing campaigns became more unified in their resistance. Rather than panicking, Fritz observed that “people overwhelmingly devoted their energies toward the good of the community rather than just themselves.”

A theory eventually emerged for Fritz that disasters, whether manmade or natural, create what he called a “community of sufferers” and that this “allows individuals to experience an immensely reassuring connection to others.” In the midst of these terrors and threats, he observed that “class differences are temporarily erased, income disparities become irrelevant, race is overlooked, and individuals are assessed simply by what they are willing to do for the group.”

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