Pandemic Love Languages

This is to pick up on a theme I brushed past in my post, Beating Chronic Pandemic Micro-Trauma: the broader question of how we find resilience in the face of layer upon layer of stress that each day paints on top of us like a fresh coat of varnish, leaving us just a little heavier, a little more distant from everything around us, and a little less able to breathe.

One thing that gets us through pandemic is love.

Dr Gary Chapman writes about five “love languages” (ways to express or receive love): Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. I’ve found the concept it adapts to many kinds of situations and relationships among people, but I’ve been thinking about it again over the last few days.

We’ve got social media; we’ve got zoom; we’ve got couriers; we’ve got email; we’ve got wi-fi; we’ve got voice-over-IP; we’ve got old-fashioned phone. We’ve never had more ways to…be disconnected from each other.

And yet…I’m so grateful for all the shining moments over the past ten months when my family and I have found our way through.

I miss my family. They are all in Canada, where I was born. I’ve had some sharp, painful moments of missing them over the past year. The first family pandemic zoom call to celebrate my brother Dave’s birthday left me feeling bleak: there were so many emotions that none of us talked about. 

I remember a feeling of gut punch the moment I heard on the radio in May that the Canadian border was closed indefinitely: that was the moment I knew beyond a doubt that I would not be going home for Christmas. 

I’m grateful for a chat thread my brother Dave set up in March. We four adult siblings and my mom exchanged more candid communication in the first ten days than we had in the previous ten years. Words of affirmation, for sure.

One of my pandemic heroes is Matt, the guy who owns the UPS Store on Duke Street, about three and a half miles from my house. He’s been my shipping lifeline to my family. Sometime in April, I did a little bit of baking and put together packages of cookies — maybe one or two per person (but they were really good cookies; who wouldn’t like something called “Fudge Ecstasies”?). The shipping must have cost over $150 for ingredients that were worth no more than $15. I left the UPS store and I cried as I walked home. 

Weeks later, my brother Lorne told me how much he appreciated the package as well as my effort to make and get it there, out of all proportion to the monetary value of the shipment on the customs declaration.

Trying to find time and emotional space for phone conversations has been challenging, and still is. We’ve all had a lot of days when “on camera” was the last place we wanted to be. So even showing up for that zoom or face time was love as quality time.

Sometimes we send and receive things. I’ve come to realize that the gifts of imperfection include the imperfection of gifts: when we give with the deepest of heartfelt intention in the full faith that our receivers will receive with that same spirit.

Really early on, bringing groceries to the most at-risk people in our bubble, an act of service, was as basic an act of love as one might imagine.

I would send my sibs and nieces and nephews a random package for no particular reason. 

I find gift-giving — when the gifts are physical items — challenging, probably because my perfectionist self wants every gift I give to be the perfect thing that someone has always wanted. 

My sister is very good at finding amazing gifts that I love – offbeat sweaters and scarves and socks — even when I say I don’t need things.

I sent a vial of my very favorite natural-good-for-you moisturizing lip gloss to the niece who I later discovered to be a resolute non-wearer of makeup.  I hope she felt loved when she got it. My nephew understood my intention in including him on the gift tag for the coffeemaker I sent their household even though he doesn’t drink coffee. My sister sent me a picture of their family holding the handmade ceramic mugs I sent them. My sister in law sent me a t-shirt with Canada-US graphics on it. I sent my brother’s family pictures of the travel diary they sent me. I’ve sent my brother two shipments of the most intense coffee I could find by mail order…simply because I know that’s something that sustains him (and if he’s sustained, that’s gotta make the whole household just a little cheerier).

Pandemic gifts have many forms that aren’t physical, too. 

My Baltimore partner and I have given each other the gift of quality time on our Friday afternoon forest walks.

Many friends also gave me the gifts of quality time or acts of service, with technical assistance, generosity, and patience when I was at my wits’ end.

To ease the stress of building business in a pandemic, I took the time and money to produce a monthly free event for my professional community: a discussion group to help them build their skills in human communication.

I spent time mentally pouting (and a lot more time feeling guilty about feeling selfish) about rearranging my own plans and inconveniencing two other people to meet my sister’s eleventh-hour request to host the online family party for my niece Fiona’s high school graduation…and I didn’t even send a gift. Argh. After everyone logged off, I cried for half an hour. I felt devastated for Fiona, sitting on the couch in the living room in her prom gown beside her proud and loving parents watching a shared-screen video from the link that the school had sent the families to play that night. Life wasn’t supposed to be that way.

I didn’t even manage to send a gift — wasn’t that what family does for graduations? Maybe I could look at my gift as being an act of service that created quality time: hosting the zoom that brought everybody together.  

In January, my brother asked me if I might edit my nephew Simon’s newest project: a near-daily sports blog. I was happy to do it, expecting nothing in return. What I’ve gotten has been precious: not only the chance to see a young writer bloom, and the experience of deeper connection with my nephew, on text and by phone, but also the inspiration to break out of a stall and start to write again for myself and for you.

Then there’s the love language that’s in especially short supply.

Last week, I ran across some images I’d taken in February of 2020. I had gone to New Jersey to see the debut of a friend’s off-Broadway play. I had strolled among hundreds of people enjoying huge animated sculptures at a brilliant festival of lights to honor the Lunar New Year. Looking at the images, I was taken aback by how vivid the images were, as well as my memories of the feelings, of those moments. I guess I had locked away the recollections, to say nothing of the feelings, of these everyday experiences that were about to become so coveted.

So much was about to happen, and I had no idea. None of us did. What might we have done differently to savour those moments if we’d known what was coming?

On that chat a couple days ago, I shared this meme, and you can see what my bro wrote back.

I had myself a little moment, there. I didn’t know he felt that way. It meant the world to me to know. 

What new dialects of love languages has pandemic brought to your life?

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