Debra-Lynn B. Hook: The power of human presence in an age of ‘Don’t touch me, you might have COVID’

Tribune Content Agency

We can’t visit each other in our homes. We can’t hug. We can’t get together for dinner or go to baseball games or movies or play sports.

But there is a mainstay that, some might say, is showing up with greater intentionality, no matter the distance.


I felt this recently as I prepared for an important appointment with a new doctor to discuss the complicated blood disorder I’d had for a decade. While I’d heard this doctor was one who listens to her patients, this was not my experience with previous physicians. Bracing for yet another hard-ball conversation that would leave me feeling deflated and more afraid, I got my power voice on, my facts straight and my lab work in order. Still, the morning of the appointment, I was apprehensive.

And then, as I headed out the door, I thought to utter my fears out loud on my social-media page.

The response was more than I bargained for, as before I even got in the car, I began to receive not just praying hands and heart emoticons, but an avalanche of meaningful words that made me feel like people were right here with me.

“I am walking in front of you into the appointment,” said one friend.

“I hope you feel me holding you,” said another.

“I will think of you right at the moment of your appointment,” said another.

Comments continued to come in like a torrent, as I drove to my appointment and waited for the doctor, through the appointment and then after. It was as if all the pent-up red alerts and yellow alerts and this state has to quarantine and that state doesn’t and people are alone in nursing homes and children are flipping out at home and career women are quitting their jobs because once again, they can’t have it all, came down to a moment of caring.

Of course I can’t say definitively that all those meaningful responses came out of a COVID-driven understanding of what’s important.

What I can say is this made the difference.

The doctor was great; she wants to work with me, which gives me great hope going forward. But so does the lingering feeling that all of Walton’s Mountain was in that little examination room with me.

Presence made the difference.

It makes the difference in the hospital room when a nurse thinks to hold a dying hand.

It is what will keep making the difference, the missing piece in modern life that my philosophizing daughter was shouting about a dozen years ago in the kitchen when she was 16 and overwhelmed with school and sports and friends and the future.

“Is anybody really paying attention to each other?” she shouted through her tears.

I couldn’t fully hear her at the time. Or I didn’t know want to. More likely, I didn’t have time.

But this is COVID 2020 when even if our noses and mouths aren’t wide open, our eyes and ears are on high alert, and after that occasion with the doctor’s appointment, I began to sit up, to make note of where presence shows up and where it is missing.

I feel it when somebody keeps their eyes on mine when I’m talking. I feel it especially when I look away for a minute, and I look back, and they are still looking at me.

It shows up in language. The other night on the phone, instead of saying “See ya’” as we were parting ways, my new friend said “Sweet dreams.”

I feel presence is when we do the extra, say the extra, ask “Is there anything else I can do for you while I’m here?” It’s when we look at each other and say: “We’re all in this together.”

Like any other human endeavor, there is an art to presence and a practice.

But really, it’s nothing more a willingness to be undistracted in a moment with another.

It doesn’t even have to be long. Or physical. It just has to be real. And when it is, all else falls away as embedded in the moment is the promise of humanity, the promise of the future.

Once you know what it feels like, you’ll never want to go back.

Presence is a luxury we’ve rarely had, or rarely allowed ourselves to have, or rarely even noticed we needed, until now, it seems, when little else between us is guaranteed.

Funny how easy it is.

No mask required, even.

And yet, the world.


(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at; email her at, or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy


©2020 Debra-Lynn B. Hook

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.