Building Connections from Afar

Firenze, 30 novembre 2020

Dear Anne, and Debra (and her dog), and all of you…

I’m so happy with your proposal to tell the story of the postal correspondence between the TimeSlips facilitators and the Older People in the retirement home where I work!

It was truly an important and positive experience: it excited us, made us reflect, remembered good old times, nurtured fervent fantasies, lulled into the belief that we have distant but close friends; reading your words, looking at the images of the photos and postcards, memories and desires of travel to distant places, and illusions of living other lives, were mixed up.

Actually, there were three very distinct phases in the way we maintained this correspondence.

In the springtime, during what they call the first Wave, the people who contracted the virus were all in all few – a dozen out of a total of 120 living in our Home for Older People, plus one nurse and four social workers. However, the lockdown and other restrictive measures that forced us to limit contacts were very tight: no relationship with the outside, we lived in small groups of 15-20 people, always the same persons, in the same spaces, doing more or less the same things, all together, every day. We held our breath for the news about the pandemic that was spreading: our family, children, grandchildren, friends were out there; however, looking back it has been a quiet but happy time – like living in a small monastic community.

Among our daily occupations – reading, cooking, tending the garden – it became almost a ritual to receive and read together, often outside, under the trees, the letters and postcards that regularly arrived from you; and, always all together, answer you. We haven’t always been able to do that: it was a time-consuming task, I had to first translate what you wrote to us; then agreeing what should be answered (everyone had something to say), tuning all the voices like the instruments of an orchestra, then again translating our words into your language – I got help from C., a lady born and lived in Brooklyn. The slowness, on the other hand, gave the operation the solemnity and importance of those rites that require their time on us: the leavening of the bread, the cooking of the ragù, the embroidery of a wedding dress…

During the summer, the virus seemed to slowly disappear. We gradually resumed our usual activities, and above all the number of people who shared spaces and days gradually increased. I always read your letters, to the people of the ‘little monastic Spring community ‘, who remembered you – some still call you by name: Anne, Debra and her little dog… But there was no time enough, or way, to collect memories, invent stories, write answers together.

The second wave arrived a month ago, forecasted but unexpected, sudden, unstoppable and violent like a tsunami. In one week the number of infected elderly people increased from a few to many dozen, and the same for nurses and social workers. The security measures were immediately activated: once again all the wards closed and separated, our Home for Older People was once again a castle, a fortress closed to outside people – including the families of the elderly. More than half of the people who live there are positive, not even the people of the ‘little Spring community’ remained unscathed. In this period, the one we are experiencing, I go to visit people one by one, trying to keep, at times re-tie, the threads that bind them to family and friends; and to reconstruct the web of relationships between them. I often carry postcards with me, even those that arrived months before, and the short poems that you sent us in these long months. For someone, who took part in our postal correspondence during the springtime, they are the proof of a relationship that still resists, despite they’re confined in a room, sometimes in a bed, helped to breathe by an oxygen tank; but no less eager to exchange words, thoughts, reflections. For the majority, however, who did not make your acquaintance during that quiet but happy season of ours, they are simply images or poems. This very simplicity, however, makes them suitable tools for the need, because anyone is able to associate a memory, an emotion, or a fantasy with an image or a word.

Thus, after crossing continents and oceans, your messages continue to travel, up and down the stairs of our retirement home, from hand to hand, from person to person: and everyone adds a word, a thought: in this way your postcards and poems help us to feel alive, and part of a community that shares our difficulties, fears and hopes.


Interested in writing to a care community? Click here to find a site and tell us how many you send them so we can keep track. If you are interested in writing to Luca and his friends in Florence, let us know how many you are sending and send them to:

Centro Residenziale ‘Vincenzo Chlarugi
via Guido Monaco 23
Empoli, Firenze/Florence

Remember to use additional postage if you are sending mail internationally.