So often good friends fall short.  Family falls short.  Despite the best intentions.  There are times when what is needed is in short supply.  It is less about an available helping hand.  It is more about understanding and compassion.  Not necessarily by means of any magnanimous show of attention, or gesture.  More so by means of presence.  Not a “being for”, but a “being with”.

We live in a time when there is no shortage of available connections.  Social media comes readily to mind. Sharing has never been easier.  From posting a family picture/event, a favorite piece of writing/quote, and certainly multiple reasons for celebration and disappointment.  All in “real time”.  There seems to be a comfort in the fact that countless strangers can like, or even love what is shared on an invisible platform. Somehow making it not only important, but also meaningful.

Too often, real opportunities for kindness in the moment are overlooked.  Not to be captured and saved on a cell phone – to be shared later on Facebook, or Instagram.   But actual moments in physical time.  Moments that register mentally and emotionally in the actual minds of people who choose to be physically present to each other.  Be it a random act of kindness – a friendly nod or smile.  Or intentionally thoughtful in taking time to listen to someone.  Maybe a stranger.  Maybe a casual acquaintance.  Maybe someone known well but not seen often.

We chat virtually. We explore digital avenues of networking.  We gather information and feel enlightened.  Believing ourselves to be fully aware of the world in which we live.  We also press decline at times when we simply do not want to take a personal call.  And click on send when we need to say something quickly – to ensure the proverbial loop continues, and we are well in its sphere of activity. All too readily dismissing what looks important, or needs to be noticed.  So that an opportunity to be noticed does not pass by.

No doubt we have all heard the expression, “It doesn’t take much”. Or maybe, “It doesn’t cost much.” What exactly does that mean?

Most likely it means different things to different people.  It doesn’t take much to make someone smile. It doesn’t cost much to be nice.  True enough. But first, there is a need to recognize that someone is sad – a need to understand that once you notice, it is a choice to respond, or walk away.

These last two years have made it particularly difficult to be an immediate presence to others.  Provincial Covid19 mandates have forced us indoors restricting our ability to physically connect. Being cut off from the social activities that were once taken for granted – dining out with friends, shopping, sports events, attending school – have left many feeling anxious and fearful.  It has not been an easy time, to say the least.

Last Fall, a friend invited me over for a visit.  We were both vaccinated, and felt reasonably confident that getting together for the evening to catch up over dinner and drinks was not life threatening. Despite knowing each other for years, we did not hug.  It felt enough simply to see each other in real time.  After dinner, one glass of wine led to another as we chatted well into the night.  At one point the laughter shifted into a heaviness.  Not on my part, but on the part of my friend.  Through tears she shared the depth of her emotional struggles.  When I attempted to respond I was silenced with being told that I did not understand. Instinctively words came to mind to argue otherwise.  Instinctively, I chose to be silent. And to listen.

At that moment, I was reminded of what it means to listen.  That is the point of physical presence.  It is something we have perhaps forgotten.  I do not think it happens intentionally.  The habit of listening is seriously compromised when we are unable to tap into the immediacy of each other’s physical presence. I suspect this is not entirely a casualty of Covid.  Social media platforms have offered multiple tools to be in touch.  The missing piece is the lack of immediacy that is inherently part of directly responding to another human being.

It was not easy to hear from someone who knows me well say that I was not listening.   I showed up, right?  Did that not count for something?  Was that not enough as a token of caring?  I sat for what seemed like forever in the company of my friend, trying to process the words.  You are not hearing me.  And no, I did not get it right away.  But I think understanding kicked in with the feeling of being uncomfortable.  How do you demonstrate that you actually hear what someone is trying to say?   Is it eye contact?  Body language?

Maybe there is no one right way of proving that you are paying attention. It is likely one of those intangibles.  You simply know when you know.  And you cannot know unless you are physically present.  Not remotely.  But fully present – mentally and physically.  Most important of all, it is about the delicate balance between listening with your head, and hearing with your gut.

I wonder if being physically present is becoming a rare commodity.  Or a lost art.  In many ways we are wired to pay attention. Endless social media platforms scream for our attention. There is so much going on in the world that impacts a growing need to scan, stream and share.  More than ever, paying attention has become time sensitive.  Perhaps at the cost of the time taken to pay direct attention to each other

In the end, it may be less about what we say on a given platform, and more about taking the time to show up in person.  To be available in some small way.  To provide a significant response by the effort taken to notice what someone needs to say. To listen.  To hear.  And in so doing, knowingly or otherwise, we save each other.



you heard me


your voice

tense with pain

words stuck

buried deep

injured and heavy

with longing

to be heard

to be held

with care


my voice soft

patiently waiting

to ease the weight

of your words

and listen


release and breathe





Photo by mododeolhar</stro

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