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Reform Magazine | August 5, 2021

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On the pilgrim way: ‘Virtual communication brings special blessings’

Sheila Maxey works on her technophobia

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My family considers me technophobic. I find answering calls on my mobile phone difficult; I panic when a new sign arrives on my computer; I am liable to end up in tears of frustration when I can’t order something online. This weakness is a particular problem during this pandemic, when virtual communication is our lifeblood, so I have had to take myself in hand.

I started with my attitude. I have had to stop myself from always thinking and saying that virtual is no substitute for face-to-face, and instead start to consider the special blessings of virtual communication. I have found there to be many.

I meet my daughter, Ruth, every morning when I join her church community’s online morning prayers, and then I stay on for a chat. We share our daily woes and blessings. We have never been in such regular contact. My husband Kees and I have an occasional Zoom conversation with our other daughter, Mary, and her daughter, in Scotland, and are joined by Mary’s other daughter in York. We sit for nearly an hour, talking through what is going on for us and them – especially hearing about the difficulties of being a student. We get to see the student room in York, and to admire pictures and a new pot plant. The granddaughter in Scotland has online piano that she has to record pieces for. This means we can see and hear her play Bach and Schubert – a real treat.

I am in daily contact with a niece who lives alone and is not working. Through photos and texts on WhatsApp, I share the first snowdrop, my amazing indoor hyacinths, ice on the local common pond. She shares her first hellebore (an early spring flower), a cheesecake she has made, and her garden outlined in frost. It helps me to live in the present, and to treasure the little things.

My screen does not often excite me, but when the younger generation in the family organised a New Year quiz, we joined them, just to say ‘Hello’, and I saw my dear extended family – in Berlin, Valencia, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Harrietfield, rural Essex, Worcestershire and London – and I was thrilled. It was also a great way for them to introduce their new partners to the family without embarrassment.

Many of my friends are make use of Zoom – for exercise classes, choir, theatre, concerts – but I am not up to that. When I run into difficulties with my phone or computer, I make an appointment with my younger granddaughter, who phones me and talks me through the difficulty. I have rarely communicated her so much. We have excellent YouTube services on Sundays, but the highlight is seeing our minister, and dear faces.

I am trying to take myself in hand, and count my virtual blessings. But I am afraid it is often through gritted teeth. And so, I keep saying, every morning, sometimes through those gritted teeth: ‘This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.’

Sheila Maxey is a member of Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex

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This article was published in the March 2021 edition of Reform

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