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Sharon Randall: Keeping close to family from afar

By Sharon Randall

Hardship comes in different shapes and sizes. Losing a job. Bills overdue. Illness or injuries or the death of a loved one.

Every kind of difficulty takes its toll. But few things in life are as heartbreaking as feeling cut off from the people we love.

As a mother, I didn’t do everything right. Far from it. But when my three children were small, most nights before bed, I would read to them.

Sometimes on rainy days after school, we’d build a fire in the fireplace, curl up together like foxes in a den, and I’d read to them until it was time to start dinner and do homework.

There’s something important — something comforting and healing — about the age-old ritual of reading to each other.

Sometimes the words we read are so powerful they will never be forgotten. But hearing them read is a different experience.

My stepfather quit school as a boy after his father died, to go to work to help his mother feed their family. He never learned to read. But whenever I read aloud to my brothers, he would sit nearby hanging on every word.

When we read to ourselves, we see the words with our eyes. (Or if we’re blind, like my brother, we use our fingers to read Braille.) But when someone reads to us, we just need to be still and listen. Sometimes, the voice and the love it conveys mean far more than the words.

Babies might not understand every word of Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon.” But they will follow the cadence in the sound of their parents’ or grandparents’ voices in much the same way a falling leaf will follow currents on the wind.

Recently, while “sheltering in place” against the coronavirus, I’ve started reading to my grandkids via Facetime. (Note: You don’t need to use Facetime to read to someone from afar. A phone works, too.)

Mostly I read to them because I love doing it. But I also do it for their parents’ sanity. Besides having to shelter in place, they are homeschooling the kids who can’t go to school or to the park or play with their friends.

I try to read them something that’s fun. My husband does the same with his granddaughter.

Today I read from “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” by Judy Blume, a book my kids loved long ago. Randy, 9, and Wiley, 7, think it’s hilarious. Elle, who’s 5, usually prefers to read to me. This time she just wanted to talk. Then Randy played a song for us on his guitar, the very first song he has written.

I wish you could’ve heard it.

Next, I Facetimed with Jonah, who is almost a year old. I read “MOO, BAA, LA LA LA!” by Sandra Boynton. He liked it so much he gave me kisses over the phone. Then he bumped his head, so we said goodbye.

Finally, I Facetimed with Henry, who’s 8. He wanted to read for me “Life,” by Cynthia Rylant, a book I’d given him as a gift. It opens with these words: “Life begins small. Even for the elephants. Then it grows.”

Henry loves that book. But he asked to read it to me because he knows I love it, too. Maybe we both needed to hear it.

Isn’t it funny how so often, when we try to do something helpful for someone, it ends up being helpful for us, too?

In these days of “social distancing,” a lot of us are homesick for family and friends.

Reading helps me stay connected to things I believe and to people I hold dear. To words that remind me we’re all in this together and that we are stronger than we know. To readers who make me want to keep writing. And to loved ones I long to see in the flesh but feel blessed to see their faces online.

I’ll hold them in my heart and with the sound of my voice until I can hold them in my arms.

Now, more than ever, while keeping a safe distance, we all need to hold on to each other.

Sharon Randall is a syndicated columnist. She can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove CA 93950 or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.

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