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This week’s reminder

My fifteen-year-old niece just left town after staying with me for a week. It was cool and sometimes weird having her here. I’ve never had that kind of time with her, just the two of us.

I found out that she’s a pretty good kid. She’s low-key and likes the quiet. She likes to read books and watch the same kind of bad TV that I do (yes I named my cats Xander and Oz after Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters, so what?).

I also learned that her favorite cereal is Honey Bunches of Oats; she usually eats ramen or mac and cheese for lunch; she likes bananas and strawberries, but not blueberries (it is both a taste and a texture thing); and for ice cream, she chooses cookie dough like her mom.

We talked about how she’s starting to think about college and that she wants to choose a school based on the quality of their programs rather than location, which I think is very mature. When I asked what she wants to study, she said psychology so she can be a therapist because she’s good at helping people.

I got to see how self-aware she is - so much more so than I was at fifteen...or twenty-five...or thirty-five. I got to tell her how amazing I think this is and that I hope she stays true to herself and if she does that there is nothing she can’t accomplish.

So cool, right?

These are the types of things that you just can’t always get down to when you live far away and only see someone for a few hours a couple times a year.

But like I said, it was also weird. It was weird the first night when she just walked in my room to ask me for the WiFi password because the only person that comes in my room is me. It was weird to be engrossed in something and to have someone announce she was hungry or ready to go and bam, my attention was on her.

It was weird to have the TV on in the middle of the day when I was working and to have things moved and to feel like I should tiptoe in the morning.

It was weird when I came home from a meeting and actually forgot someone would be in my place. I walked in and looked up to find a person sitting on my couch; it took a beat for me to register it and say hello.

It was weird too, to feel worried about someone. Like when I couldn’t find her in the library after my tutoring session and I got a little flutter of what could easily have grown into panic in my chest. I texted her and it turns out she had chosen a book to read - a psychology book about the trolley problem - and was sitting way in the back upstairs.

It was weird to experience a tightness around my heart when I thought I heard her crying; a tightness that relaxed with a flood of relief when I looked in on her and realized she was laughing.

It was weird that for her goodbye breakfast yesterday I gave her four pieces of bacon on the sandwich that she requested, leaving me with only three. It was even weirder that I was happy to make the sacrifice.

It was weird to feel a pang of sadness when I woke up this morning and had to take a beat - this time in the opposite direction - to realize she was gone and I would miss her.

All of this feels like a very poignant reminder today.

You see, I spend a lot of time in quiet pursuits often feeling removed from others. I read, I write, I think. I live alone, I hike alone, I even work alone most of the time. This is all very intentional and on purpose and in the service of caring for myself, so when I’m reminded of how much I can care about someone else - someone that I technically hardly know - it’s pretty cool and sometimes weird.

But man, don’t we need to be reminded of that seemingly now more than ever? Isn’t it so important to slow down and really truly notice these little things? To be aware of our enormous capacity to care about each other?

I feel like this is the most important thing I could be thinking about and feeling right now, and I am so grateful that it came along when it did. I very much hope this feeling wins out for you today as well and for all of us eventually.

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