These winter days force us back upon ourselves, when snow keeps us indoors. And perhaps this is the time to extend ourselves to those among us who spend nearly all their time indoors – housebound friends and neighbors.
A few winters ago, the mother of a friend, isolated at home, felt winter gloom close in upon her, in spite of potted daffodils. We had the inspiration to write to relatives, friends and acquaintances, and encourage them to invite her on a trip. Knowing that an actual trip was impossible, we suggested alternatives: a vivid journey into a shared memory, or a photograph of an experience she’d had with them, or (using their imaginations) have her accompany them on a trip of theirs, one she’d never taken. We provided every invitee with instructions, an enticing piece of stationary and a stamped envelope, and waited to see what would happen.
The results amazed us. Each day before the deadline, the mailbox held treasures. We received notes from people who welcomed our offer. As we slipped their pages into an album, we read of memories that, unearthed, vividly evoked shared times – a walk along the beach, valued advice provided after hours spent listening, the pungent fragrance of a luscious soup slowly cooked during a long winter’s day. We marveled at photographs showing her at all ages, in many places, full of vitality and curiosity. Our favorite imaginary journey enabled her to travel around the world – placing a photo of her (smiling) onto an elephant, deep sea diving in the Great Barrier Reef and directly in front of the Taj Mahal. The willingness of friends and relations to dip into their memories, talents and time yielded great joy when the album was presented.
As we wrote to the contributors after we presented it to her, “She took time to read every word you wrote. Her heart was touched by you. As spring emerges, along with the crocuses from the seemingly dormant ground, she is glowing, savoring your words and the memories you evoked.”
This gratifying experience led me to think of the good intentions many of us have to reach out to relatives or friends. We get so busy with the day-to-day obligations of our lives that we don’t do the things that might make a difference for a land-locked friend. The process of outreach we used could be adapted for other families. Or simpler approaches (even postcards) can achieve the same goal.
One family sought a way to give their parents the gift of memory. A large jar was filled with strips of paper, each containing a few sentences, enough to summon up a time gone by. The jar served not only as a way to bring back times almost forgotten when the parents were by themselves, but to prompt a wealth of conversations across generations during family gatherings or in long-distance communications.
When I use cherished gifts, my mind often summons up the gift giver. Writing the giver a note, I derive great satisfaction from describing how the gift from years ago enhanced a recent occasion. I love coupling the present with the history of the object or friendship, thereby puncturing time. Delving into memory may mean being wounded, since, inevitably, some gifts came from those who now exist only in remembrance. Would that it were possible to get in touch, to thank them. Those absences offer silent reasons to reach out.