The Outback Files - Safety has a cost

Reid Matthias

For me, being a stranger in a strange island, where distance is always a reality, the social separation has been particularly distressing. I find myself in a hyper-aware state whenever I’m in contact with people noticing their proximity to me and subconsciously viewing them as walking vectors.

Watching nightly newscasts, I have pondered how effectively we are shaped by the media. For instance, when giving COVID statistics, there is always a twirling, three-dimensional virus in the background. Malevolent and evil, this spinning virus continually reminds us of our fear. Serious newscasters tell us the bad news (or good news) but remind us not to be complacent.

What are they telling us?

To be safe means to be distanced, and if you don’t toe the line, you risk the lives of everyone.

But, what is the cost of safety? I believe it’s a credit card of distance: social, emotional, spiritual. In separating physically, I’m finding in Australia is a malaise of the corporate spirit. People smile less. People chat less. People stop shaking hands, hugging, patting each other on the back. In refraining from these, there is a genuine sense that people’s social, psychological, emotional and spiritual health is deficient. Paying back the credit, with interest, has taken a severe toll on our reserves.

Now that Australia is hesitantly coming back together, like brown snakes coming out of hibernation, I watch people’s body language. Eyes flitting back and forth (watching, always watching), constantly aware, to the point of paranoia, it feels like social connection is illegal. Thus, when the opportunity to join an exercise program came up, I was excited and nervous. Very excited and very nervous.

I felt like I was breaking the law.

Split into two groups, one half doing circuit training, the other half doing a team sport called Australian Rules Football (an amazingly fast-paced game which is a mixture of American football, basketball, soccer and maybe even pole-vaulting without the pole), we will gather twice per week in order for the researchers from the university to understand team sports and their effects on wholistic health.

A few caveats: 1. Men only age 35-53 (I’m just slipping under now) 2. Relatively low activity level over the last months (firmly there)

When I showed up for the first night, the researchers took our measurements, almost all of us slightly to grossly overweight. While we waited for our turn to be measured, something fascinating occurred.

These forty middle-aged, inactive men, hadn’t come primarily for physical health. Almost to a person, as I chatted with them, they said that their primary reason for joining the study was to meet people.

I don’t know if I can stress that mind-blowing fact enough.

Guys my age are lonely, and the last year has only exacerbated that fact. From Steve, to Dave, to Eddie, to Paul and Tim (middle-aged-guy names, don’t you think?), we soon found a similarity in story. We made connections. We talked about struggles and joys.

And that was just in the first week.

During our first practice session, I felt a true sensory shock when Steve gave me a high five. Imagine two years ago feeling that jolt from connection, not distance.

Now I’m finding the credit is being paid back in full through social connections.

I hope this is coming soon for you, too.


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