How do we connect with other people, with ourselves, with animals and nature, with the things that are important to us? The thirteen submissions here show how differently we respond to this basic need; hugs, grandchildren, zoom and going for walks were mentioned several times. But, in whatever way we chose to answer, the impulse, the importance, the imperative to connect is clearly demonstrated.
Threads of Connection
Well before Autumn had spun its webs of gold, I spilled the balls of wool from their bag, ready for my Yuletide mission.
Plastic knitting needles do not make the click-clacking noise of old, like train wheels racing down the line, but they are no less satisfying to use. Indeed, the silence is conducive to gentle multitasking, a skill proving inversely proportional to my age. And as the days slipped into deeper darkness, I passed the hours watching TV, drinking coffee and knitting, every stitch inching me closer to my four young grandchildren.
But when the shutters came tardily down on Christmas visits, my early enterprise became an even more important woolly message that my heart ached with missing them.
And when I look now at the photographs of my wee pals, Mabel, Vaughn, Roddy and baby Tosh, wearing their bespoke knitted hats, I smile that part of me is with them, keeping them snug, not only in the cold of winter, but in the knowledge that lack of Grannie hugs does not mean lack of love.
And although my arms for now cannot surround them, the woollen threads will connect them to me daily until warmer winds might blow.
The first letter of Clangers is ‘C’ for ‘Connect’ in the wonderful Dr Phil Hammond’s recipe for a good life. It is probably the easiest for me, as it comes naturally. I’m lucky enough to have plenty of family and friends to connect with, which wasn’t always the case, so even in lockdown I have many people to enjoy ‘phone visits’ with. I do miss the unexpected connections – strangers who stop me to tell me about some part of their life, strangers to whom I start to chat, and in exchange they tell me something on the same theme. I have made many of my greatest friends this way, including an Italian woman whom I met at one of Rome’s airports. She spoke no English, and my Italian is very basic and very slow, but we have remained in touch ever since, and whenever I have returned to Italy we have met up.
I miss hugs.
Let your body do the talking
I am blessed to live in a Victorian town set against a backdrop of hills around which is strung a necklace of cottages. Further down the hill are blocks of purpose-built apartments for the over sixties. It is around here I take my morning walk.
For months I’ve spotted an elderly gentleman looking out of his window. He appeared so sad and forlorn, but all I could offer was a wave and a smile. A few weeks before Christmas I walked up the path with a sign, reading ‘Do you need anything?’
We have got into a routine of him slipping a note under the door with his shopping requests. When I can, I make him a few scones or little sponge cakes and pop them in a brown paper bag. Everything is done to the highest standards of hygiene and safety.
We communicate with our eyes and crazy miming. He laughs and so do I. When he peers inside the bag his face splits in two with delight. He sticks up his thumb. I stick up mine.
Words aren’t always necessary to make a connection.
The advent of technology, particularly the internet, has enabled many people to form all sorts of connections, allowing contact with friends and relatives all over the world. Facetime, Zoom, Viber, Jami, Talky, cisco WebEx, WeChat and WhatsApp to name but a few. What none of these options do is allow us actual physical contact. Virtual hugs and miming are no substitute for touch.
To quote Aristotle:
‘Man is, by nature, a social animal…’ (He did write a lot more on the subject, but this is the part of the sentence most people remember.)
Having recently had occasion to use a couple of the above I am more conscious of the fact we use more than speech to communicate. As a onetime Counsellor the importance of body language was paramount. Facial expressions, stance, the slightest movement – all contribute to understanding what a person is actually ‘saying’.
So we may be connected but are we really communicating?
My main human connection is with my wife. We’ve been married 62 years and understand and appreciate each other more and more as the years go by. I connect, too, in a way which gets down to whom we really are and what we really care about, with my weekly creative writing group and with members of the Scottish Men’s Group which gathers to talk and share with each other things which we buttoned-up males usually keep behind locked doors. There are three or four special friendships where I can be myself, no pretence, no brave facade. These connections, which used to be done face-to-face are now made by email, Skype and Zoom. Then there’s my cat, Orlando, of course. Recently I’ve started playing my grandson (21) at chess, by email.
When I am creative in any way (like expressive writing or photography), a lot of the time I’m connecting with aspects of myself. Important to my physical, emotional and mental health are my daily walks along Helensburgh beach or in the woods which give me an essential connection with nature and the environment.
Having retired from the Police Service – some fifteen years ago – and now living in Scotland, I lost touch with the ex-colleagues I worked with during my twenty-seven years in England. For years, I considered social media to be impersonal and never used it much. Now, after making contact with ex-colleagues from the Metropolitan Police Service, I check Facebook every day and feel totally connected, and hope to attend a reunion in June, all going well.
I have found it rewarding to contact elderly former colleagues, near the end of their careers when I met them: some are now in their late eighties and nineties. Others are alone, after losing a loved one, and they all appreciate the contact. Some have Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, and benefit from the memory triggers, and they welcome contact with younger people, giving them something to compare their careers with.
All in all, I’m glad I’m in contact with them all. Now sixty-eight years young and fully retired, I have more time to connect with others in need of contact and support, at this difficult time. I also feel connected to the past, as some of the memories begin to fade.
Notice the moment they begin: those winter feelings of despair. Put hands on heart and belly then sing; moan the leaving of the light. Notice the moment they begin: those aches and pains from too much strain – reaching beyond the possible – now ask for a massage then give a massage. Notice the moment they begin: those self-doubting right-wrong voices, consider writing – how everything changes – no two breaths the same no two waves – only stop when empty and wordless – now sit – do nothing – sit longer – do no thing. Lap up the warmth of winter sun, listen to birdsong and know. Yes, know the earth the moon the stars will continue long after you’re gone. Watch the last leaves shake as a smile fills your face, it comes in the form of a fox or a finch or a child running to you with open arms.
Connections in lockdown? Oh, I’ve tried Zoom, meeting with other
Horticultural members. Discovered how to switch off sound, how to watch
without the camera switched on. Attended a carol service for Shelter,
fascinating to watch, but who can sing along with a choir? It’s
Covid-time, so life is in lockdown and health walks are all the rage. I
will rage against the dying of cinema, theatre, harmless pastimes like
window-shopping. Now I walk for England, in a back of beyond in Norfolk,
walks in all directions from the door. We have faced rain, floods,
finally, snow. No weather is beyond me (knees permitting). Gardening,
craft, gifts to neighbours and friends, all socially-distanced. The
postman is our godsend. The sky all-weathers our everyday. Muddy boots
and aching muscles, the garden glowing with seasonal delight all-year.
Phone calls, celebrating Mother’s Day (somewhere), Father’s Day
(nowhere), Easter (at home), holidays (Isle of Wight, before the second
wave), our seaside daytrip place (a distant memory, family occasions
(alone). Poetry is breath – connection – and for the rest?
Cooking/reading/cleaning/decluttering/birdfeeders. Connect today.
At 87, I am not a good person to ask about exercising. Recognising the necessity, I don’t really enjoy it since bits of me hurt. I do go for a walk every day at about six thirty a.m. when there is no one about and the rabbits are good at social distancing. If it is icy, I do a circular walk inside the block of flats which is too hot and dry but involves six staircases. The rest of the day, I’m busy writing and answering queries about autism, and teaching on Skype. Have just finished a book about loneliness in old age. ‘Out to Grass’ was triggered by one of my neighbors who had recently lost the last remaining members of her family and said, ‘Nobody knows who I am any more’. It is a series of conversations with twenty residents about their remarkable lives. So, while I recommend the limited activity necessary to maintain muscle strength, what enriches my life is writing, poetry, and involvement with neighbors.
Phoebe Caldwell DSc
CONNECT – is that a command (!) or a question (?), physical, or emotional, visual, or audible? Bolt to a nut, or lengths of electric cable, water pipe to basin tap? Antidote to counter loneliness? The possible interpretations are endless. I have chosen to discuss the last. Clearly, at present, to connect physically, other than in your own household, is contrary to regulations and therefore illegal, but how about connecting audibly or visually? In suitable surroundings and at a legally permitted distance apart there can be no objection to either
option, provided that, in the first option, the participants have good voices and adequate hearing or, in the second, they are warmly wrapped up. In both cases there is the hazard of the Connection being observed or heard by others, an outcome which may not in any way be intended or desired.
Fortunately, despite the existence of innumerable disadvantages, we live in a period in which technical advances have reached a stage at which one can Connect in many ways – audibly and even visually, by the use of a telephone and, more recently, following the introduction of the World Wide Web and Internet, by many possibilities of media connection, the employment of which should help to alleviate the danger of loneliness.
Our daughter-in-law is an NHS consultant, so we spend Mondays, Tuesdays and now – since the Scottish government’s recent tightening of restrictions – Thursdays and Fridays looking after our four-year-old grandson. Clearly, we are very fortunate in being able to connect.
Our scallywag our little sprite,
Our cheeky monkey, hearts delight,
Our little heart thief, precious boy,
Our bairn, our wean, our darling oy.
How many ways and means to spell him?
This scamp, this menace, tiny skellum.
This spinning top that never settles.
This little rogue, this bunch of nettles…
How many other ways to say him?
This plunderer, our happy mayhem.
Can words articulate the heart’s true measure,
How deep, how high how rich our treasure?
They strain and strive still grasping less,
Than anything words can express.
In addition, the ‘gadgies’ who used to go hillwalking on a weekly basis keep exchange poems, short stories, photos and anecdotes regularly.
I’d often heard a friend praising the spellbinding teaching style and deep knowledge of a particular lecturer at a learning institute in London and had felt envious of the courses he’d been able to attend as a Londoner. Enter Covid stage left, and suddenly I was able to attend one of these courses online, the first the college had run in this way. It became a fixed point in the week, and despite lockdown, there it was – a kind of liberation of the mind, sitting with my far-flung classmates. That course was followed by another – and now I wonder: what do the great universities of the world have to offer? Suddenly possibilities are boundless: only curiosity and the willingness to learn are needed. Which has led me to suggest to groups of friends that we read a book together, meeting weekly or fortnightly online to discuss a chapter, or a topic. The limitations of Zoom begin to melt away as we adjust to it, and startling to discover that empathy and deep sharing can happen on a screen. Only connect –
Open close open close open until someone puts their palm in the centre of my back, and someone else touches my shoulder – I am closed womb-like curled on the floor. Sobbing gets louder, am comforted soothed – open close open close open a few more times until I contact two people. The one on my right is God, our index fingers touching like Michelangelo’s painting of God and Adam. The other person’s hand interlaced with my hand – firm warm. We squeeze release squeeze again. I let go of God and turn towards the squeezer, now both hands interlace light firm light firm, our foreheads touching we lean into each other – my hand palms her heart, her hand palms my heart. Heart to heart connected with gratitude. I roll down to the floor into child’s pose palming her feet, pressing down I lift my pelvis in the air: dog-up dog-down up down back into child’s pose holding her Achilles tendons. Standing again my front to her back, I wrap my arms around her shoulders and neck my palms over her heart. We stand and sway, almost waltz, she leans the back of her head into my right shoulder with her face to the sky. There’s nowhere to go, nothing else to do.
Many thanks to all those who contributed.
The #CLANGERS letter for February is L For LEARN.