On learning the story of Paul Harvey and his son, Nick
Prompted by the full page spread on this story in today’s Observer – the day after our UKAGP one-day conference on ‘Speaking Out’ – I turned to my computer and called up one of the several YouTube recordings of the event described there that are now on-line:
I discovered that it had already been around the world in over a million iterations before I had even sat down to breakfast!
Over this last weekend, given the constraint of the pandemic, we celebrated our community also on-line, and at several points we were hugely conscious that sitting in a chair talking to the wall, each of us in our own front room, with others spread like a patchwork quilt across our several Zoom screens, was a profoundly dislocating experience. Even as we took pleasure both from the reunions of the day and the many new faces, we mourned the loss of touch, of the opportunity to embrace one another, to extend our welcome with open arms.
As Gaie Houston reminded us yesterday morning, so much of our vocabulary is expressive of our physical being and it seemed inevitable that ‘meeting on-line’ would always be a poor shadow of ‘meeting-in-person’. I looked up the expression in Polish (Spotkanie osobiste) and in German (Persönliches Treffen) – to take just two of the other first-languages of those at the conference – and wondered what other resonances it might have in other non-European languages. I suspect I would find it to be a universal, to have a special resonance among other forms of meeting.
And yet in this story of an 80-year-old man living with dementia in sheltered accommodation as recounted by his son, there was such tenderness – a very visible physical bond between the two of them that reached out across all distances, and I suspect all languages – and touched that same universal. I wasn’t in the room. I don’t even know where the room was. But when the surprise moment came – which I really shouldn’t give away because the emotion of the surprise was my own, and I wouldn’t wish to spoil it for others – when he cried, I cried with him, it was such a simple joyful moment; a literal reaching out from one side of the Atlantic to the other that touched me as it touched him.
And I wondered whether we might yet underestimate our capacity as human beings not only to transcend the artificial boundaries and divisions of our geography that the internet makes possible, but to find that common bond on-line that in our Gestalt lexicon Buber called the life of dialogue as a lived unity: the unity of life. As I re-ran the episode on my screen, I felt my own humanity confirmed – the better to reach out to others closer to home.
Sunday 12th November, 2020