• Brian E Pearson

The Tao of Distancing

My brother, at the best of times, has a low tolerance for change. The lineup outside the grocery store had been long, one person let in as one person came out. Then he was assigned a shopping cart, which he didn't need, to help the staff keep track of the number of customers in the store. Little arrows had been stuck on the floor, indicating the intended flow of traffic up and down the aisles.


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My brother is a former Metro Toronto cop. He collects guns. At the start of the pandemic he visited the local gun shop, to stock up on ammo. "You preparing for war?" the shopkeeper asked him. "No," my brother said, "I'm preparing to protect my supply of toilet paper." They both laughed. Good one.


My brother knew what he needed at the grocery store, and it wasn't much. The arrows were directing him to go half way round the store to get to the aisle he wanted. It was making him mad. So, despite the arrows, he turned his cart up an aisle and headed toward the items he came to get. A man was coming the other way, a "yuppy teacher type." When the man saw my brother, he put out his hand to stop him. "Don't you know about social distancing?!" he cried. "Shut up!" my brother said, and kept coming, backing the man all the way up the aisle.


This is why I love my brother. With a mercurial temper and an almost total absence of filters, he is my polar opposite. He says and does all the things I think, but would never dream of actually saying or doing. As horrified as I have been, all my life, by his angry unreasonableness, I live vicariously through him. Sometimes, I know just how he feels.


It's probably best to admit, all of us, that social distancing sometimes feels like more than an inconvenience. It feels like we're school children all over again, forced to line up and take our turn, with teachers watching over us, correcting us, and sometimes meting out consequences when good order breaks down.


But we can do this. In fact, we have little choice, despite the defiant churches claiming God's protection and the gun-toting protesters amassing in front of American state assemblies. It has to do with consideration, with caution, and ultimately, with compassion for those most vulnerable to the real dangers of COVID-19.


The Tao te Ching says it is better to be a reed that bends in the wind than a branch that snaps. Tao does not force its will, but yields, being supple and, therefore, strong. Or something like that. So, my brothers and sisters, bend, yield, and for the love of God, just go with the goddam flow!

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