By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor
Searching the aisles of my neighborhood hardware store Saturday for the ever elusive hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and Lysol spray, recommended armor in the fight against COVID-19, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in several years. We approached each other with extended arms, but instead of going in for a hug we recoiled. We proceeded to have an awkward—and brief—conversation standing three or four feet apart.
From the passing of the peace in churches, or a moment described in some religious traditions as extending the right hand of fellowship to your neighbor, to the two-cheek kisses in much of the world, embracing is part of the human tradition across cultures. The handshake, sometimes offered when we meet someone new or to signal that a deal is sealed, stretches from Ancient Greece to Quakers, Nat Geo’s Nina Strochlic writes.
Social grace is being overtaken by social isolation, an important new phrase in the international vernacular, in the age of novel coronavirus. It is believed that “distancing” ourselves will halt the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. But it is socially awkward to wave at friends while avoiding them or to give strangers the side eye while wondering if they’re vectors, super spreaders of the disease, and it’s borderline rude to hope no one gets too close in the grocery store. God forbid someone should touch us.
How are you dealing with social distancing? Do you have any tips to share? Let us know, and we may share a few of your ideas with fellow readers. We’re all in this together. Stay safe, everyone.
Fighting back: The world is doing efforts, large and small, to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. In Portland, Oregon, a distillery is making hand sanitizer—and giving it away to customers. So is one in Indianapolis. Restaurateur José Andrés temporarily closed his restaurants and said he was converting them into kitchens to provide food for those at need. “In this moment, loving each other means staying away from each other,” Andrés wrote. ... Here’s a guide for helping ease the loneliness of older people while we are practicing social distancing.
Today in a minute
Fakes: All 16 of the purported Dead Sea Scroll fragments at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., have turned out to be forgeries, Nat Geo’s Michael Greshko reports. Independent researchers funded by the museum announced the conclusion Friday, acknowledging that the museum’s founder, outside collectors and some of the world’s leading biblical scholars had been duped. The findings don’t cast doubt on the 100,000 real Dead Sea Scroll fragments, most of which are in the Israel Museum.
A home: Alabama has agreed to build a museum to house artifacts from the recently discovered remnants of the Clotilda, believed to be the last ship to bring a cargo of enslaved Africans into slavery in the United States. The city of Mobile, Mobile County, and the Alabama Historical Commission say work will begin immediately on a heritage house in the Africatown neighborhood, where many descendants of those enslaved people now live, al.com reports.
‘I had to become a man’: That’s what Christine de Pisan wrote in her journal when she was widowed at age 25 in the late 1380s, left to care for her three children and her mother. She worked managing calligraphers and bookbinders. Then she began writing for French King Charles VI, Philip II of Burgundy, Queen Isabella of Bavaria, and England’s Earl of Salisbury. She pressed for women’s rights and praised Joan of Arc, writes Annalisa Palumbo for Nat Geo’s History magazine.
Instagram photo of the day
Peace: A Sufi pilgrim embraces the blue-tiled shrine of Shah Yusuf Gardezi in Multan, Pakistan. Built around 1150, this is one of the earliest tiled structures still standing in Asia. Multan is called the City of Saints because of its large concentration of Sufi shrines. Sufism is a mystic practice of Islam, with a focus on gaining knowledge via a direct experience of God, often accompanied by dancing, spinning, singing, and sometimes ecstatic trance.
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The big takeaway
Plague doctors: The widening COVID-19 pandemic has increased interest in scourges and plagues of yesteryear. One curiosity of the 17th century European plague was the beaklike masks worn by doctors. The masks were believed to help ward off the disease. They didn’t work, writes Erin Blakemore for Nat Geo.
In a few words
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The last glimpse
Overlooked no more: Mountaineer Barbara Washburn (pictured above on an Alaskan peak) mapped the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest—and deserves to be remembered by history for even more than that, Nat Geo's Nina Strochlic writes. Washburn’s second-ever hike was as part of (and the only woman in) an expedition up 13,382 feet to top Alaska’s Mount Hayes, in 1941. Six years later she gazed over the Denali Pass, near North America’s highest peak. She was the first woman to summit both. “Like most women of my generation, I'd been raised to believe that my place was in the home,“ she once said. ”Yet in the end ... that home would be in an igloo, at 12,000 feet, sharing Tang-flavored fig pudding with my husband; or as the lightest climber going first to test the cornices on a narrow exposed ridge; or staring out at summit views that no one else had seen.“ Washburn died in 2014, a few weeks short of her 100th birthday.