“Where Is Everybody?”

     Have you ever watched one of those end-of-the-world movies, wherein a lone survivor awakens to a world that seems to have been depopulated while he slept? There have been a few, and some of them have been pretty good. I have 28 Days Later and I Am Legend in mind as I write this.

     Lately I’ve been battling a growing sense that we’re living in one.


     I’m just home from Mass. When you next attend Mass, note the behavior of the congregants: as they arrive, as they worship, and as they depart. (What’s that? You’re not a Catholic? Well, there’s still time. I’ll pray for you.) Recently I’ve been paying attention to my fellow parishioners’ attitudes toward one another. They exhibit a definite reluctance to interact. Indeed, after we prayed the Lord’s Prayer we once clasped hands with those nearest to us and wished one another peace. The custom seems to have gone into the dustbin.

     You could easily get the idea that we’re afraid of one another.

     I know, I know: the COVID-19 pandemic has done a number on millions of heads. But that’s over. More, it was revealed to be a 99.7% fraud: we were in more danger from the medical profession and the vaccine than from the virus itself. Haven’t we internalized that yet?

     I tried to make light of it. It deserved as much ridicule as I could heap on it. But the fear of others was palpable. And apparently, it has some staying power.

     There are some things other than the Kung Flu that are making us view one another with fear. You could probably reel off half a dozen as you read this. While some of those influences are artifacts of too much attention to the news, others have definite substance.

     Clearly, the “high-trust society” of old has taken some body blows. Fear and trust are mutually exclusive. Moreover, high-bandwidth digital communications is helping us to isolate ourselves. The fraction of his shopping that a typical American does by actually leaving the house and visiting a brick-and-mortar store has dwindled sharply. The majority of meetings, outside of the sort that take place among co-workers in the same building, are now conducted via Zoom or equivalent. And of course our communications tend to be at a distance as well. Oftentimes they’re devoid of the sight of our faces and the sound of our voices.

     Must I say explicitly that this is not healthful?

     “Touch is the most fundamental sense,” wrote Robert A. Heinlein. He was quite correct. So also was Dr. Eric Berne: “If you are not stroked, your spinal cord will shrivel up.”

     There’s a whole lotta shriveling going on just now.


     Four years ago, as the Pandemic Panic was getting into high gear, Bookworm wrote:

     I very strongly believe that part of America’s falling apart is that we no longer see or speak to each other. Once upon a time, daily commercial transactions bound Americans together. At the grocery store, the butcher’s, the hardware store, etc., we’d see the same clerks and run into the same friends and neighbors. Those small interactions, repeated over and over, create a strong sense of community. I know that’s true because, for all its political leftism, that’s what life was like raising kids in Marin County. I lived in the functional equivalent of a small town, recognizing people wherever I went. Few were friends but all were friendly.
     Nowadays, especially thanks to the lockdowns, we do much of our shopping online. Even when we do visit a physical store, such as rising into a grocery store after work, people are masked and turned inwards. Saying “hello” through the mask requires physical effort.
     Social media, contrary to its name, hasn’t made us more social; it’s made us more angry. We don’t see each other’s faces so it’s easy to yell and insult. The very nature of a mob is that its very mass makes it impersonal. No one person is responsible for the physical or emotional damage it does. It’s the rare person who, like Clarence Thomas during the race riots after Martin Luther King’s death, looks at what he did while he was part of the mob and is so horrified that he completely revamps his life.

     We’re unlikely to touch one another when we fear so greatly that we refrain from leaving our homes.


     After Mass, I had a sad conversation with my pastor. Some weeks ago he’d floated the idea of a “Keep In Touch” ministry, whose volunteers would make regular visits to other parishioners who felt a need for more human connection. I volunteered to participate at once. But the idea seemed to fall off the agenda afterward. I asked him if he still thinks the idea is a good one. He replied that he does, but that recently he’d been too busy with funerals.

     Glory be to God! Must the attention we give to the dead and those who mourn them completely displace our attention from the still living? When among them are surely individuals who desperately need the sight of a friendly face and a warm handclasp to go on living? Yes, burying the dead, with appropriate ceremony, is one of the corporal works of mercy…but so is visiting the sick, including the soul-sick, the lonely, and the despairing. We must make room for it!

     That is, if those subtly inculcated fears of one another will permit it.


     The problem is not stiff. Indeed, it’s too BLEEP!ing simple. If we want life, we must give life to others, with our faces, hands, and voices. That includes both temporal and eternal life. It’s profoundly unchristian to withhold ourselves from others who need us, especially when the need is one we might soon feel ourselves. If what’s keeping us apart is fear, allow me to ask in the starkest possible terms:

What do we have to fear?

     May God bless and keep you all.


  1. I’d like to commend several points you made. But, so as to not water it down, I really wish to highlight only the one about touch.

    The ability to revive a despondent person with it is remarkable. It’s a delightful, rewarding sight. Let a very elderly person, even one near death, hold a cooing infant and it’s hard to believe the magic of the moment.

  2. Start with current ministry positions – which are in desperate need of people to assist?

    • Food bank?
    • Collecting clothing?
    • Organizing fundraising activities?
    • Taking communion to homebound/hospitalized parishioners? (This is one that our current parish bobbled very badly when my husband was in rehab. It was an oversight, but he felt the neglect very badly).
    • Catechism? Some age levels have a lot of difficulty getting teachers (middle school, for example).

    I’ve found that nothing brings you closer to others than working together. In person. Yes, it does take time, but it’s worth it.

    Offer to help with handing out mass bulletins, seating people, directing traffic, doing setup or – even better, cleanup – at events.

    And, VERY hard for many – put a smile on your curmudgeonly face.

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