Ways of seeing: Pandemic led to new connections

Several friends and I quietly admitted to each other that the pandemic has been an affirming personal experience. The spaciousness of this past year was a gift.

There was time to act, time to ponder, time to gaze.

Technology became a tool for connection. I visited with folks in their personal spaces without leaving my own. I attended concerts and workshops and performances around the world and interacted with people I otherwise would never have met. I read and discussed books. I meditated with a circle of close friends.

Among the joyful surprises of this year was finding new ways to engage with my two sisters who each live a day’s drive away. Working remotely at home, they were alone and inactive a good portion the day. In the past, we spoke on the phone every week or two. During the pandemic it seemed like we all needed more connection, more activity, more fun.

I have enjoyed a NIA dance class for several years. (NIA stands for neuromuscular integrative action, but don’t ask me to explain beyond that. To me it’s just a fun dance class.) Early on in the pandemic our instructor, Linda McCuen, started offering a weekly hour of NIA on Zoom. I suggested my sisters sign up for the dance class, and Linda was open to the idea. They hopped in.

We wave to each other every Monday afternoon from our respective rectangles as we boogie along with music and work up a sweat. Watching each other move to the beat, it feels like we’re together on the dance floor.

This remote exercising worked so well I proposed another weekly sisters’ Zoom gathering each Thursday to strengthen our aging bones and muscles. They were game. Although I never taught an exercise class before, I now lead us through a sequence of weight lifting routines interspersed with aerobic moves and concluding with stretching. We recorded a couple of sessions so they can take the class on their own over the weekend.

The recording is rarely needed, though, because I usually join them on Sundays, too. We take turns choosing music. So far, we’ve tried 60s and 70s hits, mariachi, soft jazz, reggae, Afro pop, Carly Simon, Broadway show tunes and big band. Of course, that inspires some singing and improv dancing between exercise routines. We are getting so fit! And after each one-hour class we schmooze for another half hour. It’s like hanging out at the gym, sort of.

For the month of June, six weeks after my second vaccination, I participated online in a community choreography dance program out of Tacoma Park, Md. Like many events, it was scheduled remotely well before the safety of meeting in person could be predicted. Experimenting collaboratively yet without physical contact, we each created, filmed and shared a dance video around the theme of soil and gardening.

Dancing remotely with a group of strangers is not an activity I would have previously considered, but it was illuminating and inspiring and connected me with a community of dancers I have long admired.

The skills I gained during this program helped me create a video for my husband as a June birthday gift. It’s called “A Pandemic Year Together” and that’s what it’s about — the walking, skiing, cooking, gardening, baking, eating, cat cuddling and internet surfing we’ve accomplished together this year.

Now that so many Vermonters are vaccinated, it feels great seeing people in the flesh again, walking into a crowd without fear, attending in-person concerts, going out to dinner, catching up on all those missed hugs. Heading to the river for a dip in the cool water and interacting with the other folks who show up there feels celebratory. We’re having visitors throughout the summer, close friends and family members we haven’t seen in over a year. What could be better than playing with those enchanting grandchildren we’ve missed so much?

Yet as we move forward, there’s an opportunity to reflect on what we gained this year. We found ways to live spaciously while connecting with others. I hope we can integrate these experiences into our future.

Alice Leeds, of Bristol, was a public school teacher for 25 years and is currently a writing instructor at the Community College of Vermont in Winooski.

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