On Sunday, we watched our church worship service on YouTube, after Methodist bishops in North Carolina told churches not to hold services for at least two weeks. I admit being surprised that watching from my favorite chair could be so meaningful. Gov. Cooper and health officials have made it clear that the best thing we can do to prevent coronavirus from overwhelming us with sickness and death is social distancing. Instead of six degrees of separation, we need to keep six feet of separation from others.

Many, already tired of staying home, flocked to restaurants, bars and retail stores – the exact opposite of what we were urged to do. The refusal to voluntarily follow the experts’ advice led Cooper to shut down all bars and restaurants across the state. Many complained, protesting they are young, healthy, have no symptoms of COVID-19 and don’t need to observe the restrictions, but their actions defeat the purpose of social distancing. Let’s hope we don’t have to follow Italy’s lead and shut down everything but grocery stores and pharmacies. Dr. Tony Fauci, the most authoritative voice we are hearing on this subject, says regardless of age, everyone is susceptible to either contract coronavirus or become a carrier and infect another.

Aside from the occasional snowstorm or hurricane, we’ve never experienced anything like this pandemic before and it is understandable some feel separation anxiety. Last weekend, we planted pansies and worked in our yard, something we seldom find the time for. On the way back home from buying plants, we passed a house with 10-15 chairs arranged in a circle, with neighbors visiting each other.

Being true Southerners, we were obligated to grate sharp cheddar cheese and make pimento cheese (of course we used Duke’s mayonnaise), but we didn’t go for the bonus points and make devilled eggs. That night, my wife and I set a fire in our chimney and had some really good conversation while listening to NPR’s “Live from here with Chris Thile,” except this broadcast wasn’t live. It was a compilation of excerpts from previous shows because Chris couldn’t perform with a live audience. The next-door neighbors came over and we made s’mores, laughed and enjoyed being neighbors. After the church service Sunday, we read books, took a nap and, at the end of the day, proclaimed this had been a really nice weekend.

Not only do we face health concerns, but there will be job losses and economic repercussions most all of us will feel. Few will escape some pain.

Maybe, just maybe, instead of looking at this as a time of loss and sacrifice, we can look at it as a great opportunity. I once read about a family that volunteered to spend time together in a cabin in the woods, a place with no electricity, TV, Internet or cell phone service. You had to pump your own water and cook and heat with fires you set and maintained - none of the “luxuries” we’re accustomed to. For the first couple of days they reported experiencing withdrawal, the children were grumpy over the loss of their devices and it felt awkward.

Then they started playing board games, talking with each other, taking hikes, reading books and getting adequate sleep. And they acknowledged growing closer as a family, making time their servant instead of being a slave to it. They returned home, but pledged to return the next year.

How long will this social distancing last? Judging from the experience curve of infections in other countries, it may be months instead of weeks before ending. We had better learn to adjust. But one thing for sure is that it will end sooner if we obey the social distancing instructions from our leaders. The more we follow their guidance, the sooner we can return to our normal lifestyles. Who knows, maybe we won’t want to.

Tom Campbell is former assistant state treasurer.

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