After two years of ‘pandemic life,’ it seems that most people have returned to socializing much as they did in the ‘before times.’ But what is normal life these days? Some things about our lives and behavior have changed, perhaps permanently. The two nonprofits on which I hold board positions are still uncertain about going back to having in-person meetings. There’s talk of the inconvenience of having to drive instead of just logging on to Zoom for a video conference from the comfort of home. And I get that, I really do. Especially in winter or when I’ve had an especially busy day, that makes life easier.
But I’ve been encouraging both groups to at least have occasional in-person meetings, just as a way of dipping our toes back in the water to see what kind of response we get from our members and the public. Most of my social ties have frayed badly during the pandemic, and even seeing friends on Zoom doesn’t seem like it does much to make me feel connected to people.
And that’s a problem, because to work effectively with a group of people to get things done, you need to have meaningful relationships with them. And meeting in person allows for little side chats that can help reinforce those necessary bonds.
As an example, a couple weeks ago I was out birding at a popular migration hotspot. There were dozens of other birders there with me, and I saw one of our members who I hadn’t seen since 2019. He’s been writing articles for our newsletter though, and so I went over and thanked him for doing that. I told him that we’ve struggled to get our members to write content for the newsletter and that I’d love to see him write more if he’s willing. He seemed quite pleased to get the compliments and the encouragement, and I felt really good for having been there to enjoy that little spontaneous chat with him.
That’s the kind of thing that I think is important, and that we’ll lose if we don’t go back to meeting in person at least a few times each year. And aside from my organizational commitments, I’ve realized that it’s important for my own health to push myself to get back into the habit of going to places where I’m more likely to come across my naturalist and native plant gardener friends. I’ve gotten so used to doing things alone that it requires effort to remember that I need to try to change my ways again to reinforce those connections that have weakened over the past two years. In the beginning of the pandemic, I railed against the isolation and loneliness. But now I’m accustomed to it, and perhaps a bit too comfortable being alone most of the time.
This past weekend was our annual native plant sale, and as co-chair of the sale, I was there managing volunteers and helping customers for three days. I met many friends who I hadn’t seen for two years, and it was satisfying to reconnect and start rebuilding the bonds that had withered with nothing but occasional online glimpses of each other.
I talked to one of my fellow Wild Ones board members, telling her that even though I’ve seen her on Zoom every month for the past two years, I still feel like I haven’t “seen” her in two years. It’s such a strange thing, isn’t it? A couple years ago I might not have believed that social bonds could weaken as long as you maintained some sort of contact, but now I know differently. Seeing a friend’s face in a box on your computer screen does not provide the level of emotional connection that can come from in-person contact. At least for me. Maybe it’s different for other people, I’m not sure. I’d like to hear your thoughts on that.
All I know is that our huge native plant sale just gave me a much-needed boost of social contact, as well as the enormous satisfaction of helping to get thousands of native plants out into our community. My Wild Ones chapter (Oak Openings Region, in NW Ohio) has the most generous members, willing to donate their time for anything we ask them to do. Dozens of them served as cashiers, customer service helpers, and parking attendants — and always with smiles. Spending three days with those people has been a blessing, lifting me up when I felt I was ready to drop from exhaustion, and giving me a pat on the back when I didn’t even know I needed it.
In the last few days, after I recovered from the plant sale, I’ve spent most of my time catching up on chores in my own native garden. It’s been such a relief to have a couple days with absolutely no obligations to anyone else, to just sit quietly beside a garden bed pulling out weeds or re-aligning a brick border, or getting reacquainted with the early insect species that are here. Touching the plants and the soil is incredibly healing and comforting, and a day spent working on my garden and home is always one of the most satisfying kinds of days.
Which reminds me, it’s time to write another update for my native garden series…watch for that next!