Malia Jones, an epidemiology professor at the University of Wisconsin, prefers to call our present circumstances “cocooning” rather than social distancing. I love the term not just for the positive spin it puts on separation; it also offers a promise of what’s to come. Cocooning, after all, precedes butterflies.
There is no question that coronavirus will change us. We are freshly aware of the uncertainty of our world. We know that our economic systems, health institutions, relationships, and perspectives are transforming before our eyes. Right now it’s hard to see more than the possibility that they may be worse. But cocooning reminds us of the ways we could also come out of this better.
Recently as my husband and I went on one of our now daily walks, we noticed how lively it feels to meet neighbors — even at six-foot distances — as we fall into new routines of daily strolls and conversations. We are like temporary butterflies, coming out of our cocoons to see ourselves and each other with new appreciation and perspective. We came up for a term for these moments — flutter time.
In flutter times we stretch our newly growing wings. We look at ourselves, seeing and being seen as we become something as individuals and communities.
Cocooning calls us to the hard task of examining ourselves and letting God remake us. Again and again in the Old Testament, prophets remind people that their response to calamity should not be fear of disaster, but a fear of God that allows him to mold us (Isaiah 29:16). Cocooning offers opportunities for God to mold our lives. We can turn our fears into examining ourselves and our society, asking what lies and idols God might be toppling in this time of upheaval. How have we ignored the most vulnerable? How have we lived in denial that all are mortal “like grass?” How have we come to trust in a vibrant economy and human innovation rather than the constancy of God? How will we emerge from our cocoons as new creations?
I’ve come to see this process of reflective cocooning and creating flutter times as part of my most pressing calling in this time. During this pandemic, at times it can feel like unless we’re working in healthcare or distributing food assistance, there’s little we can do to help. But facilitating cocooning-growth and fluttering-sharing is something that many academics are especially well suited to contribute. As a professor and a leader in my church and community, I can remind people to pause, learn, and see who we can become through this time of upheaval.
What does creating flutter time look like for you? Here are some ideas for inspiration, but you can leave your own in the comments below.
- Write to a group of friends and begin planning a “Butterfly party.” Email some friends to ask them to get started planning for a party for whenever the social distancing policies end (or maybe several small parties if we're still in limited group sizes). At the party, each person can show off something you made while cocooned—a piece of art, music you learned/wrote, a new recipe that kept you sane, a table you built, or whatever else creative you're up to. For example, my son’s musical got canceled so he's using what he learned in rehearsals to teach me to dance the Charleston with him.
- Make a new ritual like Fancy Fridays. Are you wearing the same pair of jeans every day? Wearing pajamas until noon? Break out the dress clothes once a week and feel the specialness. Share pictures on social media.
- Support somebody. One option that doesn’t require contact is to make a call once a day to one person in your community who may be especially lonely or afraid.
- Professors and TAs, create a course discussion thread titled “What inspires you lately.” Ask students to use the space to encourage each other by sharing links to movies, shows, articles, art, music, or whatever is stretching them lately. It can be related to class, or just something that fits in the realm of “if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
- Watch an inspiring movie with friends from a distance using Netflix Party.
- Start a home photo scavenger hunt with friends. My friend Angie created a glorious one that includes tasks like stacking all the toilet paper in your house and building a blanket fort.
- Rearrange your furniture to spend more time facing windows.
- Paint a room, mop a floor, or clean your cell phone while meditating on what needs cleaning in your life.