Summer Time

It’s the middle of August. We’re just past the traditional mid-point of the summer season.

We’re also in the early weeks of the Stage 3 reopening from this nearly 18-month pandemic. Somehow, this summer ‘time’ seems strangely different and awkward from any I have felt in years gone by. What about you?

Something has been missing this summer…something vital and grounding, an experience we all desperately need, whether we know it or not. I found a name for it in an article our daughter sent me from the New York Times. The title of the piece was: “There’s a Specific Kind of Joy We’ve Been Missing”, written by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist. He describes a concept called ‘collective effervescence’-the kind of energy and synchrony we feel when we share an emotional experience with others…a musical rhythm with strangers at an outdoor concert, the exuberance with fellow spectators upon watching a walk-off homerun, the excitement with colleagues at a brainstorming session or immersed in a group project with fellow students on a college or university campus, the shared spirituality with family members at a religious service, the comradery with team-mates at a sporting competition, or the laughter shared with friends at an outdoor patio. 

Emotions are essentially social in nature. They are meant to be shared. Research shows that people laugh 5 times more often when they are with others, than when they are on their own. It makes sense, huh? Not that we can’t find happiness sitting alone watching the sun go down I’ve had more than a few of those times earlier in my life! But peak happiness ‘happens’ when it’s shared…the moment you turn to someone alongside you and say “wow, did you see that…did you feel what I just felt?”

The trouble is…collective effervescence has mostly been choked out of our lives through this pandemic. The multiple lockdowns and social distancing protocols have kept us physically safe, but they’ve also disconnected and impaired us, both relationally and emotionally. The necessary wearing of protective masks has concealed the full facial expression of our emotions.

We’ve mostly lived and dined in the privacy and safety of our own households. Many students have done the bulk of their learning on-line and alone, deprived of the effervescent joy of a proud graduation ceremony or exhilarating ‘prom’ night. Weddings have been limited to a select handful of family and friends. Families in bereavement have been ‘bereft’ of the comfort and support of extended family and friend gatherings, with funeral rituals arranged ‘by appointment only’. Other families watch painfully as they accompany their loved ones to the front door of a hospital Emergency Department or surgery unit, then unable to enter, detached from the supportive waiting room accompaniment at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. And, so many of our seniors have languished behind the closed doors of a long-term care facility, disconnected from outings with family, church services, or visits with friends.

But there are signs of a return…this ‘specific kind of joy we’ve been missing’. T-ball and other sports have started for our children, and with it the collective sideline shouts of joy and encouragement from parents and grandparents watching their young little-leaguer in action! Schools are prepping for a return to in-class learning in September. Outdoor patios are starting to fill with effervescent conversation and storytelling over a meal together. And as I write this, I am sitting in a hospital operating waiting room in Chatham, where I share this space with other families waiting for news about their loved ones. There is strength gained from waiting expectantly…together!

But we have such a long way to go. The uncertainty, fear, and anxiety triggered by this pandemic has created so much pain, sadness, and loss. These vulnerable emotions, like the positive ones, are contagious. They linger deep below the surface and strain to be collectively shared. Research tells us that much of our mental and emotional ‘dis-ease’ is our inability or unwillingness to face and connect with these deeper and more painful emotions. There is an old proverb: “Grief shared is grief diminished”. Its corollary is “joy shared is joy sustained. This is a recipe for collective effervescence in action!

It’s going to take time, more than the summertime, for this collective effervescence to return to

being a regular and nourishing part of our way of life. That’s where I’m reminded of one on my favorite songs by one of my favorite musical groups, “Wasted on the Way”, by Crosby, Stills, and Nash:

“And there’s so much time to make up everywhere you turn. Time we have wasted on the way. So much water moving underneath the bridge. Let the water come and carry us away.”

For us, it’s not too late for a new and better way of connecting with one another.

Now may well be ‘the time’ for a revival of collective effervescence, one that addresses both what we have lost with one another and invigorates us with what we most dearly need…emotional ‘intelligence’ of the deepest kind.

  • “do you want to go for coffee?”
  • “tell me how life has been for you?”
  • “can I share some feelings with you of what I’ve just been through?”

So let’s be intentional.

Maybe the concluding part of this summer doesn’t need to feel so awkward after all?

Here’s to the return of collective effervescence!

Let’s look for it, and make it happen.

It’s summertime…may the ‘water come and carry us away’, in every good emotional sense.