“First of all,” I said, “how are you doing with this virus situation?“.
The person on the other end of the phone was a customer service representative at my Internet provider company.
I had no idea who she was apart from that. But I knew she was one of us. One of the billions of people on the planet now who are feeling more vulnerable than usual amidst the heightened uncertainty of this time.
It wasn’t the first time this week that I’d begun a phone conversation with a stranger in that way. I’m just so aware that everyone’s a human being like me, in a situation they can’t control.
What’s going on? Who figured out that if the whole world was threatened by a virus, we might just start feeling connected to each other in a bigger way?
Concerts, theater, restaurants, parties, have all been taken away from us. We’re not even allowed to have a picnic with our friends.
And yet somehow for me, all kinds of strangers suddenly feel like family. I care about them. I want to know how they are.
This feeling of connection is a lot like the experience of being a performing artist. You get up there on a stage in front of everyone, typically not knowing any of them, and you’re filled with the desire to share your heart with them. To share the music you love. You somehow feel close to them even though you’re up there in the spotlight and they’re sitting in relative darkness, not very visible.
We love that darkness, because through it a mysterious stream of energy flows between us and our listeners. The energy of the human heart gets transmitted from the composer, through us, to our audience.
And we also love standing up there in the light—because we want everyone to see that our hearts are bursting open with the desire to communicate, to share the beauty of the music.
We can’t go to live concerts now. We don’t even know how long it will be before we can.
But every night at 7 o’clock in my neighborhood , people lean out of their windows banging pots with spoons and cheering and applauding, in appreciation of the healthcare workers who are risking their lives to save the lives of others. One evening, as I was walking back from the park to my apartment, I saw them all. And as I approached our building I saw our doorman walking out to the steps in front, clapping his hands too, in his purple disposable gloves.
“They’re cheering for you too,“ I said. He too risks his life to travel for over an hour on the subway to get to our building in the morning, to protect us and take care of us.
Being out on the street experiencing this raw expression of appreciation for the bravery of our fellow human beings reminded me of the applause we give our performers. Of how we show our appreciation for courageous artists who open their hearts to people they don’t know, in order to share joy and inspiration. We applaud them because they give us the precious experience of our shared humanity.
And so, right now, as we express our caring to strangers on the phone, or our appreciation for brave citizens we may never meet, the whole world feels to me like a theater or a concert hall—a place we go when we want to feel our humanity in a bigger way.
This is what we have to celebrate now.
It’s a lot.