Monday, October 9, 2023

The New Hallmark Card

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I still believe, along with Anne Frank, that people are mostly good at heart. When trouble comes knocking at our door, we can usually count on friends to gather by our side after we’ve opened it and let us know they’re there with us. Even though we often fall back on the standard clich├ęs— “So sorry to hear…,” “our thoughts are with you,” “get well soon!” and the more extreme circumstance of “condolences”—still we mean them. 


At the same time, there is a certain hierarchy to the depth of our caring— at the top, the in-person visit, then the handwritten letter, then the Hallmark card with a little note that we took the trouble to put in the envelope, stamp and mail, all the way down to the above sentiments with or without the emoji in the Facebook comment rectangle. 


I recently got news from her husband John that Lynne, an old school colleague now living in Washington, was dealing with serious health issues from multiple fronts and could use a little support from her old San Francisco buddies. He didn’t have many of their e-mail contacts, so I forwarded his letter to as many of them as I had, some thirty colleagues from The San Francisco School, some of whom had known her for over fifty years! 


After forwarding his letter, it felt like we should do something more and inspiration struck! How about a Zoom call? Surely Lynne would be uplifted seeing all our faces, even if on tiny squares, and hearing our voices and feel the power of seeing us all together. But knowing how people in hospitals are not always in a visiting frame of mind or even literally awake at any given scheduled time, imagining that even if we got the timing miraculously right, she might not be thrilled for us to see her in her less-than-healthy self and it would be exhausting to interact with each of us, even on the screen, it seemed we needed a Plan B.


And Eureka! Why not a Zoom meeting without her there, that we would record and send for her to watch at her leisure? Her husband agreed that that would be most welcome and so I hoped I could dust off my Zoom-recording-saving-the-recording- transferring- to-Google-Drive-getting- the-link skills that had (thankfully) been gathering dust the last year and a half or so, but were common practice during my online pandemic courses I taught. Fingers crossed, I named a time and 15 out of the 30 were able to show up. 


The first ten minutes was the pleasure of seeing each other together on one screen, as some who moved away hadn’t seen some of the others for a while. I then pressed the record button and one square at a time, each greeted Lynne with great warmth and told a little story about one of their memories together with her. 


Lynne had quite a run at the school, first as a parent in the late 60’s when the school first started, then  as Assistant Administrator the year I started (1975), then she began assisting in the preschool, got her Montessori credential and became a Head Teacher before retiring somewhere around 2010. Amongst her various passions were an unbending early-morning long-distance jogging routine long before it was fashionable, studying French and horseback riding. At 82 years old, she’s still riding horses! And in fact, winning some competitions! So when many people encouraged her to “get back on the horse,” they meant it both metaphorically and literally. 


It was a happy 25 minutes with much laughter, warmth and sweet sentiment. At the end, I moved to the piano and all sang (muted except for me) our Side By Side school anthem and then all unmuted and shouted out their final “Get well! We love you, Lynne!” Miraculously, I successfully navigated through all the post-recording steps, got the link to John and he wrote back saying it brought him to tears and would show it to Lynne tomorrow.


So, my friends, I don’t need to patent or copyright this idea (perhaps others have done this?), but am happy to have thought about it as a way we can be with each other and gather community in time of need. A bit astounding that this lifetime Luddite is celebrating an electronic form of gathering, but as I’ve always said, “The right tool for the right job at the right time for the right reason” and this new Hallmark card idea fulfills all these criteria. Just in case someone runs with idea and claims credit, let it be known that perhaps it began here.

But really who cares? What’s important is that we all were refreshed by the experience and it was so much more meaningful by the standard stock phrases of caring. You are all welcome to use this idea and especially the thought that it can be recorded if it doesn’t make sense to do a live Zoom meeting. And then kept like an envelope filled with memorable letters to return to in future times of need. A reminder of who loves us, how we are loved and how we are worthy of love. Keep healing, Lynne!


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