Building community in unexpected ways.

Watching the sunset on a summer evening.

Every night my family sits down for dinner and we ask “How was your day?”. Before the quarantine, shelter in home times, the question was sufficient to elicit a decent enough response from my boys and husband; we all got a good sense of everyones’ day. Now, the question can seem hollow and insincere since we’re all together all the time, by the time we hit the dinner table we already know how everybody’s day has been. Still we all crave the ritual, the sense of normalcy it provides and the connection it delivers.

This also happens with the different knit and friend groups I talk with via one of the many online options available to connect. People want more than small talk. They want real connection, genuine conversation and to feel kinship, even if it’s through a screen. But the screen is the hard part. At least at the dinner table I can see my family in real time and we can (generally) read the body language and know when one of us is going to speak. It’s hard to develop that online. So how do you create community and connection through the screen?

Before Covid hit and demanded we stay at home, I hosted a couple of in-person knitting groups. I’d meet a friend for a sewing date, a walk or a meal. Occasionally I’d have a chance to take a fiber class. By most people’s standards I was moderately social; loved seeing people and going places, loved staying home.

Now, many months into this, I’m finding what ways are best to connect with my family and friends. The key element is having an activity to go with the conversation. It helps our brains relax and our hearts to connect. Before, if I talked on the phone, I most definitely was doing something else as well like weeding, cooking or knitting. Now that many conversations and activities have moved online, if there is an activity to go along with the conversation, we’re able to be present and engage much more deeply. It’s hard for our brains to read all the non-verbal cues that we need to connect in real time over a screen. If we have something to do, it kind of tricks our mind. We stop looking at ourselves on the screen and focus on what’s in front of us. For family gatherings, we often play a game. My knitting groups have transferred quite nicely to being online because we have needles and yarn to keep our hands busy.

A silver lining is that we don’t all have to be in the same place to participate in these online gatherings. In my knitting groups, a good friend can join from Australia and another from New Jersey. I’ve “seen” my family all together more times than any other year. I’m able to continue to challenge myself and actually sew through my sewing dates with another good friend. I was able to be part of an amazing retreat that was held on the East Coast, something I wouldn’t have been able to join had it been held in person. Traveling at the beginning of a school year is not possible. And I’m finally able to teach folks how to knit via online classes.

Getting ready to teach my Learn to Knit class.

To be honest, I’m warmed and surprised how these different groups have been able to thrive within these limitations. I’m equally saddened about the connections that are no longer growing because of them. Nothing takes the place of in-person conversations, gatherings, celebrations, walks and hugs. I miss hugs. There’s no replacement for any of it on an online format. It’s not the same and part of it is letting go of the expectation that be the same. We won’t ever go back to the normal we knew, we’ll just arrive at a new normal. Now is the in-between time, the hardest place to be in any journey and we’re being forced to think, relate, connect outside of the box, outside of our norms. We all are navigating through it as best as we can. And so I keep committing to creating and holding space for community where I can, seek out new ways to connect with my people when I can and find joy in the ways that it works, right now.