What does being Present mean? Before this pandemic, to me at least, it was partially defined by physical presence – that is, being in the same room with a person.
As a Sweet Reader connecting with older adults in my school, being Present allowed my partners to immerse themselves in the activity, which brought up old memories and new feelings for them. Commonalities and conversations grew as pages of artwork were filled. I could see moods change from stoic and reserved to bubbly and excited, and their willingness to open up and share life stories grew throughout each session. I recall one particular session a few years ago, while pasting cutout trees for a bright, summer scene, my partner “Frannie” spoke about her childhood in the South; she joyously reminisced about going to a stream on sunny days to pick the best flowers for her mom, who would then display them in the kitchen. Little stories like that one have stuck with me and have brought me so much joy.
Being Present – being able to direct all my attention to interacting with my partner – allowed me to let go of all my other thoughts and truly live in the moment. I so enjoyed the face-to-face engagement and the effects I could see on my partners’ faces and was eager to continue!
At the end of March, the prospect of working with adult partners and bonding over art projects through virtual Sweet Readers Connect Visits felt daunting to me.
I was eager to reach isolated adults in need and so I signed up. This past spring and into the summer I was able to enjoy several Connect visits with Gail, a woman who grew up in Riverdale, New York. As a Manhattan teen, it was so interesting to hear what living in the city was like decades ago; I was also really surprised at how many experiences we shared, from eating dinner in Italian restaurants on the Upper West Side to visiting Lincoln center to watching Broadway musicals on Saturdays.
Being Present has both physical and mental aspects, and in the absence of a physical connection due to the pandemic, the emotional component and connection have been heightened. I discovered that fully focusing on my partner, regardless of where each of us were physically, eliminated distractions and the strains this time has brought with it.
Being present – even over the internet – has given me a place in a growing community of people of all ages, each of us trying our best to navigate covid19 and meaningfully connect. I know these visits have helped me and I could see that the activities and conversation provided a refuge for the adults as well.
I remember one particular visit with Jean, when we discussed summers on Long Island. Jean spoke of the beach house she shared with her husband and kids, and I relayed stories of the time I stayed near the seaside in East Hampton. We also discussed what we did during the winter holidays – I remembered the ballet classes spent preparing for my Christmas recital, and Jean reminisced over annual holiday parties she attended. During that connect visit, I think we were both brought back to simpler and more enjoyable times and left feeling refreshed.
The type of focus I felt during this pure engagement, even through the internet, reminds me of how I feel when I dance, being fully present. This has made transitioning to virtual dance classes easier as well. The Zoom and FaceTime interactions – with dance, my partners from Sweet Readers and my friends and family – have given me purpose and an important structure and place.
While I can now see that perhaps the most meaningful thing about human connection transcends physical space, these experiences have also deepened my appreciation for the time I can be with those I love and with the communities I have become a part of, in person.