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first person

Illustration by Drew Shannon

The depth of my grief when I heard my yoga teacher had died confounded me. The thing is, I didn’t actually know Lesley Fightmaster. I had never met her in person and yet, through the long illness and death of my father as well as the daily stress in my regular life, her classes were always waiting for me. The connection was real.

I’m not a disciplined or ambitious yogi, but several times a week, her calm, positive vibes re-energized my physical and mental well-being. Through years as a stay-at-home mom, Lesley Fightmaster was my steady person when others weren’t around. Not only for my own hard days, but when something would happen globally, like say, an election that could stress out the masses, Lesley would post a video seeming to acknowledge the anxiety we were all feeling and provide comforting words to guide us through. Then, at the end of November, she died suddenly and unexpectedly.

I felt her loss deeply.

Virtual visits with dad are awkward, uncomfortable – and essential

We have so much more interaction with people through a screen these days. It’s raised my awareness of other people’s lives and made me more compassionate. The vulnerabilities we all feel when the audio in our online meeting suddenly cuts out or the video freezes right when we have to present to colleagues is universally understood. And now, with so much of our interactions happening through a screen, I’m finding a connection there that I didn’t expect.

When my daughter’s piano lessons flipped online last spring, I saw a side of her teacher that I wouldn’t have, had the lessons continued face to face. The teacher was struggling to turn on her mic, her furrowed brow and tense mouth revealing the stress we were all feeling in this new world. “I’ve been homeschooling my grandkids every morning until 1 o’clock. It’s been busy and I’m a bit frazzled,” she explained at another lesson when she couldn’t find her book. I didn’t know she was a grandmother. Like her, I was also frazzled from homeschooling. It was a small connection, but a real one.

Possibly the strangest online experience I’ve had since the start of the pandemic was the Zoom stripper I met named Brody. In August, my sister’s friend surprised an all-female dinner party of close pals with the abrupt appearance of an online erotic dancer. It was my sister’s bachelorette party, and in COVID-19 times was much more subdued. We’d finished dinner and moved into the host’s living room for a “surprise.” The host opened her laptop, turned on the TV, and there was Brody dressed as a sexy cowboy. Prepandemic, having drinks in a club with loud music would make some human connection nearly impossible. But now we’d be having a more intimate experience with this online stripper than would have been possible in a loud club.

While Brody enthusiastically grooved to a stuttering audio track that cut in and out, in front of a hastily printed banner in an undeveloped basement, I couldn’t help thinking; here’s a guy just trying to stay afloat in hard times. He’s just like the rest of us. Pre-COVID-19, there was much more emotional distance between businesses and customers. Especially of this kind.

When he flicked on a gas fire table to “Heat this party up,” I realized why my husband and I couldn’t get our hands on a new outdoor fire table. Shops couldn’t get product in fast enough. I wasn’t just competing for a fire table with other Calgary families, but with stripping businesses as well.

It might have been different had we been able to hear Brody’s tunes, but with no music on our end, we danced awkwardly in our seats as his audio continued to fail until we were left with only his off-key singing to Rihanna’s Love on the Brain. Throughout his performance, some of us returned to previous conversations, whispering, “I wish I’d remembered to bring my breast pump,” and “Are you still getting eyelash extensions by Carley?”

(“I could have chosen a military theme,” the host said afterward, but we all agreed she was right to go western, this being Calgary.)

Brody’s earnest text later that night – hoping that we’d all enjoyed ourselves – was also a connection that wouldn’t have been made pre-COVID-19. Now I find myself thinking about the stripping world with a compassion that a thirtysomething suburban mom might not have felt before. Was he making enough to pay rent? When does a stripper age out? Do they pay for their own props, or does the company?

I know that despite the in-person interaction we’re all missing, there have been and will be moments of human contact through our new online world that surprise us. They might reveal the struggles of others in ways that the creators of Zoom or Google never imagined.

Lesley Fightmaster’s YouTube yoga classes were convenient, uplifting and dependable. It’s only now after long months of isolation that I’ve come to see the truth: In this global, connected world, we need each other more than I ever realized. In the words of Mr. Fred Rogers, another beloved person I met only through a screen: “If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of.”

You were important to me, Lesley. Thank you.

Hilary Faktor lives in Calgary.

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