In the pre-COVID days, the girls used to be in a weekly swimming class. The swim school was indoors, and parents would sit in red chairs and observe the swimmers through the glass.
I often sat next to a woman who had a son in Ella’s class. Every Thursday, a few minutes before the start of class, an Uber driver would pull up in front of the swim school, and the woman and her son would get out of the back seat. Her son would open the door for her. She would use her white cane to find her way to the front row, where I sat.
The woman and I would chat during the lesson. She would ask if her son was swimming – somehow she always seemed to know when it was his turn to be in the water. I would inform her what stroke he was doing, and she would nod her head and smile. On days when he mastered a skill, I would tell her that he was getting a ribbon. Her face would light up with happiness.
As the clock neared the top of the hour, the woman would get up from her seat. “It was good to see you,” she always said as she rose to walk toward her son. She would always emphasize the word “see.”
After many weeks of this, I finally felt comfortable enough to ask her, “I’m curious, when we are saying goodbye to each other, how come you emphasize that word?”
“Because I do see you,” she replied with a little laugh. “I can see your smile through your words when you tell me about my son. There are lots of ways to see. You use your eyes, but I have my own ways.” She patted my arm and walked away, her voice calling out, “See you next week.”
She was right. We often don’t pay much attention to things beyond our visual experience, but there are many ways we can see.
I’ve been thinking about this woman’s wisdom a lot lately. During COVID, we miss using all our different senses for rich, in-person connection with others. But it remains true – there are many ways we can see, just as there are many ways to feel and smell and hear.
I can feel a friend’s presence and the sensation of a hug through air hugs and warmth given over a Zoom call. I can hear the sound of a loved one’s voice in a letter they write. In a picture that pops up on our digital picture frame of the girls walking through a garden in Paris, I can smell the fragrant flowers.
Today, I’m looking for new ways to use all my senses to experience the world from home.