Communal gatherings have always been an important aspect of my life. Birthdays and Christmas were big family affairs and some of my favourite childhood memories involve sitting back in an armchair watching my Dad and his brothers engage in animated but friendly debates across a table of forgotten leftover Christmas ham and pavlova. My parents also had a close-knit circle of friends and would take turns hosting cuisine themed pot-luck dinners.
Together, they would sit talking on the deck late into the mild Queensland summer evenings while us children played tag up and down the quiet cul de sac. And then there were the soirees where everyone, from 7 to 70, would perform a poem, song, or share artwork.
None of these gatherings were fancy. Simple home-cooked meals, good conversation, playful banter about nothing and everything, politics to painting. But I remember always enjoying them, feeling safe and part of something. Human connection is one of those basic necessities which until recently, I, like many others took for granted. Woven into the fabric of everyday life, it only when taken away that I realized how much I valued those long evenings breaking bread.
It’s essential that we observe the lockdown and social distancing measures in our respective areas so that we can help authorities keep ourselves and others safe. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t still connect meaningfully over various technologies that are thankfully available to us – skype, zoom, telephone, or even by snail mail. Below are a few suggestions of how I’ve used technology to strengthen my relationships during this difficult time, while still adhering to social distancing and lockdown measures.
1. Write a letter.
While a handwritten letter might not be technology as such, receiving a handwritten letter, or even an email, is one of life’s simple joys. I still feel the rush of child-like excitement upon opening the letterbox to find, amongst bills and flyers, a small white square with my name scrawled in cursive across the front. In this fast-paced day and age, knowing that someone has taken the time to put pen to paper is truly special.
2. Call a loved one.
Call me old fashioned, but I’ve always preferred telephone calls to text messages, and since moving away from family and friends that little rectangle gadget has been a lifeline to home. On a weekly basis, usually on a walk or commute to and from work, I check in with loved ones back home to hear about the happenings of their daily lives.
3. Dine in or virtual dinners.
If you live with someone (whether that be family, a housemate or a significant other) consider taking it in turns to prepare a beautiful meal and dine in at home. My husband and I had already instigated a “date night in” pre-COVID-19, which we found to be a success.
Each weekend, one of us chooses a recipe which is slightly fancier or more complex than usual and spends the afternoon preparing it. Over the last few months my husband has taken on this challenge with gusto and has been treating me to homemade gnocchi, paella and slow cooked ragu. We might not be able to travel in person right now, but we’ve certainly been travelling via our palettes.
We then share the meal and appreciate the effort one of us has put into cooking the homemade food. Although I find joy in getting out our best crockery, sharing a drink, lighting candles and playing some cards or board games, this meal can be as simple or fancy as you like. The main thing is to be present and enjoy each other’s company over good food. A few recipes that we’ve tried and loved are here, here, and here.
You could also consider a virtual dinner via skype or zoom. My husband and I recently tried this with another couple and had a lot of fun. We agreed what time we would each have dinner and then we prepared our individual meals and set up a zoom meeting at the agreed time. We also played some online board games (such as house party) for some after dinner entertainment. I’ve found that virtual dinners work better with small numbers of people. However, using zoom for larger gatherings can still be fun, albeit slightly hectic.
4. Take part in an online community.
One of my friends recently invited me to join an online writer’s group. She set up a Facebook group and invited a collection of her friends who were all working on a creative writing project. On the first weekend of each month, we meet up for an hour by teleconference to discuss our projects and to offer feedback, support, and encouragement. It struck me a great way to connect with other like-minded individuals. There are so many online communities, Facebook pages, and groups you can join on the internet or you could easily form your own group with a few friends with a common interest.
While face-to-face gatherings we’ve shared in the past are luxuries I won’t be taking for granted again anytime soon, for now, we can still find other ways to connect that don’t require meeting in person but which still cultivate community and enable us to have those meaningful conversations that warm our hearts and souls.
About the Author: Bridie Leah is a collection of visual and written stories for the everyday minimalist; mindful, timeless style and design and meaningful conversations around life, connection and creativity.