Toilet Paper-Thin

Yesterday we stood 10 feet apart.

If you’d asked me even a week ago, I’d tell you that it felt more like 30, with a gas pump and a thick, comfy social veil between us.

A week ago, I would have barely noticed her across the way. No eye contact; not even a nod. We’d conveniently hide behind this curtain of comfort, stitched together with the social fabric of personal space and cultural norms. We’d fill up our tanks and drive on to the next thing.

Yesterday was different.

The heavy, imposing veil was gone—replaced by something drastically thinner.

Yesterday I longed to break through this new and feeble partition. I wanted to peek around the gas pump and acknowledge the woman across the way. I even considered offering up a Clorox wipe.  (As every respectable person with an OCD diagnosis knows, gas pumps are synonymous with germs.) If it weren’t for the new social distancing protocol, I might have even gone in for a hug (OCD and all). Why would 7 days embolden me so?

Even as social distance and personal space increase, heart distance narrows. 

Something’s changed in the past 168 hours, because everything’s changed:

Pandemic is no longer just a board game that you play with friends at a party, or the brilliant Scrabble win. It’s the thing that keeps you home. This is nothing like a game, except that there are losers.

“He tested positive for Influenza A,” came the doctor’s voice on line. This news, even a week ago would have bypassed the worry in me and beelined straight to panic. Instead it prompted a deep sigh of relief. As I placed the cold washcloth on my son’s 104-fevered brow, I breathed a prayer of thanks.

Social Distancing no longer conjures images of middle school in/out crowds, or the first class-business class-economy class hierarchy on airplanes. In its most prudent form, it’s why we’ve cancelled all unnecessary travel. In its cruelest form, it’s why the boy in my (Eurasian) daughter’s science class threw his fingers up in the sign of a cross and yelled “Corona!” as she walked through the door.

Shortage is no longer tantamount with Baby Yoda on back-order, or the scarcity of evaporated milk on store shelves the day before Thanksgiving. We’re texting, messaging and in extreme cases, calling our loved ones all at once—but not to say “Merry Christmas” or “How did they come back from 15 points behind?” (How could we now, anyway?) Instead we’re asking, “Do you have enough food, medicine, paper towels?” Maybe we’re even breaking the tension with jokes about foraging for leaves amidst a toilet paper shortage. Soft leaves. (Here in Colorado we have an abundance of pine trees. Helpful.)

How quickly a crisis redefines words. And everything.

It’s reframing distance, too. But paradoxically:

Even as social distance and personal space increase, heart distance narrows.  There’s far less partitioning us now, even with the millions of new walls erected in the past 7 days. That robust social veil that keeps us from picking up the phone, looking him in the eye, or actually seeing the 70-something woman in the line behind you . . . it’s waned to toilet-paper thin.

Thin, like the pages of my Bible as I turn them one-by-one, desperate for a verse that might push this heaviness away. Honestly, I’m coming up short. Maybe this thing is just too raw or maybe I’m just incredibly numb.

So I’ve decided to narrow my search, and look at the red letters instead. Here is something of Jesus that maybe I haven’t seen before. (How quickly a crisis redefines words. And everything.)

To the Samaritan woman he said,

“Will you give me a drink?”

She replied, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)  (John 4:7, 9)

To the despised tax collector, soon-to-be-disciple Matthew, he called out,

“Follow Me.” (Luke 5:27)

To the hemorrhaging woman,

Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. (Matthew 9:22)

To the thief hanging next to him on the cross, he promised,

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

No veil. None. Not even a paper-thin one.

In case we didn’t get the message, just hours later,

. . . he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:50-51)


I wish I could end here by telling you I did it: That yesterday I stepped through all that stood between me and my gas-pumping neighbor. I didn’t.

But in the past 7 days, here’s what I’ve learned: Embedded in this troubling new reality is a comforting one as well. For a moment in time, the veil between us all is toilet paper-thin. Social distancing is imperative. Precaution is paramount. But there’s plenty of room to close in on kindness. Maybe today I can try again, starting with the toilet paper stashed on my mudroom floor.

Next time—Lord Jesus help me—I’ll step through with You.


Image Credit: Hello I’m Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

Nichole Woo
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