Balancing risks for health

The weather is finally starting to warm up around here. I’m taking great delight in walking in my shirtsleeves and remembering to wear a floppy hat to keep from getting sunburned. It seems like only yesterday that I was wondering which jacket to wear to go for a short walk outside on chilly gray days. We’ve been busy at work, with our church hosting the Conference Annual Meeting last weekend and then playing a bit of “catch up” with a few chores that were deferred in order to host the meeting. I seem to be keeping busy with my time away from work as well. I stop by the farm every day right now to check on the bees and give them a bit more syrup. I’m feeding them as they get settled in their new hives and spread out across the farm. I am fascinated to watch them as they come and go from the hives on a warm day. The bees returning from foraging land on the hive with their hind legs covered with bright yellow pollen. There is no shortage of dandelions around the hives and many of the bees are gathering pollen from the flowers that are considered to be weeds by many. I’m trusting that some of the bees are also gathering pollen and nectar from the trees in the orchard which are in beautiful bloom. there are also plenty of tulips and daffodils right now. Other flowering plants are a bit behind, but the farm is just beginning what will be a summer full of blossoms.

Yesterday we were able to leave the church a bit early. A couple of meetings were cancelled as various church staff members are catching up from the busy weekend that was followed by a large funeral on Monday. The early departure from the office made it possible for us to catch the monthly spirit assembly at the elementary school where our granddaughters are students. The kindergarteners presented a special bee song and dance during the assembly and our youngest granddaughter had been especially excited about the performance and reminded us of it several times. We joined other parents and grandparents on the bleachers in the gym as the students found places to sit on the floor. Many of the kindergarteners wore yellow and black for the event and they had made yellow and black paper hats as costumes. Our granddaughter, however, happened to have a bee costume. The costume was a hand-me-down from friends and she was just the right size to wear it to school yesterday. She was so excited that I am in awe of the teacher who could shepherd a whole room full of kindergarteners through the day yesterday before the assembly.

How different the crowded school gymnasium was from the way things were just a few months ago! The school was totally shut down two years ago out of fears of spreading illness. A year ago, assemblies were limited and we wore face masks when attending any events at the school. However, yesterday there were only a few masks in sight and the school was once again packed. We are fortunate to have enjoyed good health during the pandemic and have been eligible for vaccinations throughout.

I was thinking of my bee hives as we joined the line of parents and grandparents leaving the school. The bees do not practice social isolation. My hives are carefully designed to have what is called “bee space” between the frames. Bee space is often attributed to Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, who manufactured precise hives in the middle of the 19th century. A space of 3/8 inch seems to be just right for the separation of the frames. That means that inside the colony the bees crowd so closely together that they are always in contact with another bee. Our line of people wasn’t crowded to within 3/8 of an inch of separation, but we were no longer observing the 6 foot separation that we strove to maintain during the height of the pandemic.

As the nation emerges from the pandemic, information is emerging about the negative health effects of isolation and separation. While there are very real dangers of spreading viruses and becoming ill from close contact with others, there are also health risks associated with isolation. US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has warned that our country is facing an epidemic of loneliness that is as dangerous to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is reported to increase the risk of premature death by almost 30% through health conditions including diabetes, heart attacks, insomnia, and dementia.

Of course a healthy life involves balancing risks. The risk of contacting a dangerous virus are not insignificant and should not be ignored. And now we are learning that the risks of social isolation and separation are also dangerous and can become life threatening. Achieving a balance between those risks requires a bit of artful management. We are learning to be better about the use of masks, staying home when we have symptoms, and respecting reasonable distance for those whose immune systems may be compromised. As has been the case for some time, research into mental illness lags behind other medical research and we are slow to respond to some of the risks and engage appropriate therapies.

Fortunately my career and my interests have kept me in close contact with other people. I have a network of family and friends. I can count on grandchildren greeting me with a hug every day and I am fortunate to have my partner and lifelong companion sharing my home. While our family has not completely avoided the virus, we have learned to use tools such as face masks and occasional days of separation to maintain our physical health and prevent the spread of the virus when it has affected various family members.

I still like my space. I’m not ready to move into a high rise apartment building with entrances that are crowded like the entrances of my bee hives. But I am grateful to have so many wonderful people in my life. For now, loneliness isn’t one of my big problems.

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