Three and a half years ago, when I packed my belongings into four suitcases and moved to London, it meant accepting a certain distance between myself and my family. It was a distance the five of us had already started to understand since one of my two sisters had made her home in Israel. I’d happily existed away from my home state of Colorado for years already, first in New York and then in Los Angeles. But there’s a palpable undercurrent of anxiety that comes from relocating abroad and knowing that you’re an expensive 10-hour plane ride away from any emergency.
My family and I are not the most affectionate bunch, something that my husband found odd when he was first introduced to my parents and sisters. We don’t usually hug, except when saying goodbye—and those hugs tend to be loose, one-armed side pats that are awkward for everyone who witnesses them. When one of my sisters and I traveled around Europe together a few years ago, we piled pillows between us in the double beds, not wanting to get too physically close. Most years, we’re not all together on Thanksgiving or Christmas. We don’t end phone calls with “I love you” the way my husband does with his family. Love isn’t something we really talk about or often express, unless something truly dire or tragic has happened.
So in the past, the physical space between my parents, my sisters, and I has sometimes been welcomed. We’ve all made our own choices and lived our own lives, and occasionally months have passed without real communication about any of it. There wasn’t some great rift—from my perspective, it’s just that our priorities have focused in directions other than each other.
It’s not that I don’t love my family—or that I’ve ever doubted they love me. Love manifests in many ways, not just in words or embraces. Love is remembering someone’s birthday with an improvised song; it’s sending your sister a forest-scented candle during quarantine because she can’t be in the woods of Colorado for months to come. Love is helping someone pay their rent during a financial meltdown without them ever asking for help. It’s simply remembering to call your mom every week.
Love doesn’t have to be showy to be real. But it does take effort. It requires you to consider the people around you, however far away, and to offer something to them. I never would have predicted that a pandemic that’s caused so much isolation would be the thing that brought us back together. In the most dramatic fashion, it’s taken a global lockdown for us to confront how important we are to each other. But when five people begin to put in effort simultaneously, the love that’s always been there becomes suddenly more apparent.
That’s what’s happening to us now, from our homes around the globe. My family—including my husband, who’s one of us now—have made a collective effort. Every Saturday we meet on Zoom for a weekly trivia game, often joined by my sisters’ boyfriends and my best friend from high school, who is quarantining pregnant and alone. Each week we take turns running the game. It’s not about the winner, but about spending time together and feeling less isolated.
Sometimes we talk about the pandemic or about politics, but sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we just watch my sister’s new puppy show off his latest tricks. Sometimes there are moments of silence or people walk away from the computer for a few minutes without saying anything, just as they would if we were all in the room together. No one is obligated to be here. No one feels pressure to spend this time with the family or to make the effort. Every Saturday, when we join up in our virtual meeting room, it’s a choice to be together.