As a seventh grader new to Sweet Readers, it was hard to believe how something as simple as taking a pause in my own life and connecting with an older adult could make such a difference. But gradually, as I took time out of my schedule of homework, sports and extracurricular activities, I came to know a great deal about my partner Rosetta. Like me, she used to run track when she was in middle school. She loved looking at paintings but hated painting them herself. She loved roses and appreciated when I drew them for her as a nod to her name. We created art together, wrote poetry by alternating lines, and more than anything, paused both of our lives to simply make a connection with each other. Listening to Rosetta allowed me to discover the person behind Alzheimer’s and the power of listening helped Rosetta to participate more fully in her life.
Some pauses, however, are unwelcome. When the coronavirus hit, it forced almost all of us to stop what we were doing and to step back even from activities that we loved and brought joy to others. In an age of viral transmission, the connections that Sweet Readers makes suddenly became a source of danger. Adults living with Alzheimer’s are high risk, along with many older adults without cognitive impairment and desperately as they need, like all of us, physical contact, they need to be kept safe. Sitting together over artwork or a poem, holding hands, embracing – all these things have been put on hold until the crisis is resolved.
But an unwelcome pause can give us time to reflect and to generate creative solutions to difficult problems. In the first two weeks of the lockdown, we developed Sweet Readers CONNECT, a digital community that brings our readers back together with their partners. Of course, we are all waiting for the moment when in-person meetings can resume, but in the meantime, we can maintain contact through a range of creative activities and still make meaningful connections. It is a chance for all of us, young and old, to take time out of our days to reach out to reach other and to treasure all the more our moments of shared human closeness.