There were nine people living in my house this weekend: my ninety-four-year-old grandfather who moved in with us last week, my uncle and cousin who came to visit, and my family of six. In the afternoons, my grandmother came over, and at the dinner table, we were joined by a few additional friends. 

My family’s house has been described as “chaotic.”  There are always guests at the table or visitors drinking tea in the living room. My parents tell me and my siblings to bring friends home whenever we want; it doesn’t matter how last-minute or how many.  

My family has lived in Ecuador on and off for the past nine years, and my parents say one of the things they miss the most when they’re in the United States is the impromptu visits from friends and neighbors. 

That’s why we try to make our home in Goshen a gathering place too.  

My family’s house in Ecuador is always full.  As soon as school lets out at 1 p.m., kids start trickling into our living room, and the house doesn’t clear out until the generator shuts off at 10 p.m.  

The scene on a regular afternoon consists of 5 to 15 children of all ages playing card games on our shiny wooden floor, piling into our three hammocks (the only furniture in our house) and frying plantains and fish they’ve caught on our propane stove.  Jokes and laughter waft through the cracks in the board walls.  

I lived in Ecuador throughout high school, and while I sometimes wished for a little more time to myself, I never felt lonely. I realize now what a gift that was.   

American culture is less social than Latin American culture, and the pandemic has only exacerbated that.  

Keeping our distance to avoid spreading COVID-19 is very important during this pandemic.  It’s a service we can do for each other.  But after two years of social distancing, I think we may have forgotten about another equally important gift we can give others: the gift of our presence.  

Making an effort to get together with someone can take a lot of energy — and guts — especially if you’re out of practice.  I find myself worrying that my presence will be a burden, that maybe the person will wish I wasn’t there. 

But in my experience, if someone makes an effort to spend time with me, I’m not mad, I’m thankful. I see their presence as a gift keeping us both from being lonely.  

I know that people fall all over the spectrum when it comes to how much time we like to spend alone and with others.  But I think the pandemic has made all of us less comfortable socializing, and as a result, many of us experience loneliness.  Having others around  to talk to and share experiences with almost always makes me happier.  

I’m thankful to have a home here in Goshen where I know there will be someone to talk and drink tea with when I need some company.  I know that not everyone has this. 

The pandemic isn’t over, so we need to keep staying safe, and sometimes that means staying physically distant from others. But we also need to relearn how to be together, even if it’s awkward or intimidating at first. Next time you’re hesitant to reach out to someone, think about your presence as a gift you can give to them.  It’s worth the energy to take the first step.