When I think of a line, I typically think of something that is finite in length or duration. We may wait in a line for gas or we may draw a line as part of a picture.
I just learned that in purely math terms, a line actually refers to something that is “a straight one-dimensional figure having no thickness and extending infinitely in both directions.”
Why am I making the distinction?
When it comes to our connections, we typically think of a line that connects A to B. It can be transactional and seems largely within our control. I do this and then you do that.
Increasingly, I’m seeing that most lines that connect us may be invisible, beyond our comprehension and more often than not, our control.
A friend of mine who works at an assisted care facility told me about a colleague who while asymptomatic, unknowingly brought the coronavirus into her workplace. Within a month over twenty of her patients were dead. Another 30 co-workers became ill. That employee had no way of knowing she was carrying the disease. Yet this invisible line connected her to death and illness that must now be unbearable to even think about.
Last week, The Public Theatre premiered The Line. Directed by Jessica Blank and written with her husband Erik Jensen, this documentary play was based on interviews with front line medical workers in New York City at the height of the pandemic. The stories shared by these doctors, nurses, EMTs and caregivers are powerful and harrowing. Each time they speak, they reveal the essential truth of how we are connected by one through line after another. Watch it and you will not doubt the severity and capriciousness of our current times again.
As I write this, I am awaiting results from my own COVID-19 antibody test. I had severe flu-like symptoms in February which in hindsight mirror those of the coronavirus (I wrote about it here at the time). Originally, I hoped that the test would come back positive as maybe that could instill upon me some level of immunity. Perhaps I could also donate plasma to help others.
Upon further reflection, I’m now thinking about what invisible lines might come with such a result.
Who might I have unknowingly infected? Did someone become ill or die because during the early days of my illness, I thought it was a common cold and soldiered on… impervious to the fact that traveling the New York City subway, teaching classes, meeting with friends, hugging or kissing my daughters and wife, might have put them at risk.
I will never know the answer to those questions and this ignorance is not bliss. It is a reminder that we are connected in ways we cannot fully see nor fathom.
Accepting this fact, we are left with two responses. Put our heads in the sand and make believe that only those visible lines – the ones that clearly connect us to friends and family – matter and damn all the rest.
Or do we instead imagine all the lines we cannot see and act with greater intention, responsibility and consideration for others?