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Let’s not ever take the importance of presence for granted again

Many of us are considering aspects of ‘presence’ which we have taken for granted until this pandemic. The fact is that we are physical beings – living in bodies. We are not designed as solitary creatures, we are social and even for the introverts among us (people who reenergise through times of solitude- as opposed to extraverts who recharge in company), these are strange times. I have observed with interest, different reactions in myself and others – introverts getting fed up of their own company others not wanting to see anyone at all… extraverts going mad and taking risks to see ‘real’ people, others recoiling in fear at the idea of going out and sometimes reactions can vary depending on the day.

Myself, I have several challenges – first the personal ones. My mum is 200 miles away from me – lives alone and is an unequivocal extravert. She is also in a category that has been advised to shield and so is vulnerable. I know that what she is missing most is hugs and long chats. She thrives on company and I worry about the long-term outcome of long periods of isolation – I’m so, so grateful for her friend and carer who offers the presence she needs. I also think that the times we facetime whilst I’m doing a job - the ironing, painting a wall, or when I’m preparing a meal or when we are eating, are better for mum, than the traditional ‘sit still and talk’ type calls. Its closer to a more normal kind of presence – more like being together.

It’s been good (for me) to have more of my youngest son’s presence than I might normally expect at this stage in his adolescence – I’m not sure he feels the same! Or what impacts this will have on this important developmental stage usually characterised by friendships outside the family. I have mourned the loss of presence with my first Grandchild – having stayed there in the first weeks after birth the distance has meant we have seen her in person 3 times since last March – of course many grandparents experience this with families living overseas or when there are relational fractures. On Christmas day, we did the 8 hour journey there and back in a day and, at just over one she was overwhelmed by her 4 big visitors (who’s presence are normally contained within a small device) in a space that she is used to sharing with only her parents. Too much presence! And then once shed warmed up to us the heart-breaking cries at bedtime not wanting us to leave. Getting my head around what this does to the development of our wee ones is an uncomfortable business.

Then there are my clients – not that I touch my clients usually, but there have been to odd occasions over zoom where I have noticed that I have wanted to reach out and touch their hand when there has been a moment of great pain – now I’m not sure if, had I been in the room, that just being there in person would have enough? Probably! What I notice is that, however marvellous zoom has been in enabling counselling sessions and teaching to continue, there is a difference. The difference is that impulse, that need to compensate, that human presence. I think it could be quite primitive, coming from those early points in life when words don’t matter – when as a screaming baby I have been held or sat with and comforted, when in isolation as a 2 year old in hospital I had the presence of my doll– at times of pain as I have grown up – like funerals, in all kinds losses and distress that have been mitigated by the presence of family or friends – even at times; strangers.

So let’s all be aware of what we are missing and how that is impacting on us and how we are relating to our world. Let’s also consider what others might be missing even if they aren’t verbalising it. Let’s continue, as we emerge from this lockdown to see ourselves and our needs for presence along side the needs of those around us – to acknowledge that the loss is there – that there could be new found fear there, even if we cant do anything about it …. Yet a while. Let’s not ever take the importance of presence for granted again.

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