“Keeping Close from Afar,” March 24, 2020

Hardship comes in different shapes and sizes. Losing a job. Bills overdue. Illness or injuries or the death of a loved one.

Every kind of difficulty takes its toll. But few things in life are as heartbreaking as feeling cut off from the people we love.

As a mother, I didn’t do everything right. Far from it. But when my three children were small, most nights before bed, I would read to them.

Sometimes on rainy days after school, we’d build a fire in the fireplace, curl up together like foxes in a den, and I’d read to them until it was time to start dinner and do homework.

There’s something important — something comforting and healing — about the age-old ritual of reading to each other. Sometimes the words we read are so powerful they will never be forgotten. But hearing them read is a different experience.

My stepfather quit school as a boy after his father died, to go to work to help his mother feed their family. He never learned to read. But whenever I read aloud to my brothers, he would sit nearby hanging on every word.

When we read to ourselves, we see the words with our eyes. (Or if we’re blind, like my brother, we use our fingers to read Braille.) But when someone reads to us, we just need to be still and listen. Sometimes, the voice and the love it conveys mean far more than the words.

Babies might not understand every word of Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon.” But they will follow the cadence in the sound of their parents’ or grandparents’ voices in much the same way a falling leaf will follow currents on the wind.

Recently, while “sheltering in place” against the coronavirus, I’ve started reading to my grandkids via FaceTime.

(Note: You don’t need to use FaceTime to read to someone from afar. A phone works, too.)

Mostly I read to them because I love doing it. But I also do it for their parents’ sanity. Besides having to shelter in place, they are homeschooling the kids, who can’t go to school or to the park or play with their friends. So I try to read them something that’s fun. My husband does the same with his granddaughter.

Today I read from “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” by Judy Blume, a book my kids loved long ago. Randy, 9, and Wiley, 7, think it’s hilarious. Elle, who’s 5, usually prefers to read to me. This time she just wanted to talk. Then Randy played a song for us on his guitar, the very first song he has written.

I wish you could’ve heard it.

Next, I FaceTimed with Jonah, who is almost a year old. I read “MOO, BAA, LA LA LA!” by Sandra Boynton. He liked it so much he gave me kisses over the phone. Then he bumped his head, so we said goodbye.

Finally, I FaceTimed with Henry, who’s 8. He wanted to read for me “Life,” by Cynthia Rylant, a book I’d given him as a gift. It opens with these words: “Life begins small. Even for the elephants. Then it grows.”

Henry loves that book. But he asked to read it to me because he knows I love it, too. Maybe we both needed to hear it.

Isn’t it funny how so often, when we try to do something helpful for someone, it ends up being helpful for us, too?

In these days of “social distancing,” a lot of us are homesick for family and friends. Reading helps me stay connected to things I believe and to people I hold dear. To words that remind me we’re all in this together and that we are stronger than we know. To readers who make me want to keep writing. And to loved ones I long to see in the flesh but feel blessed to see their faces online.

I’ll hold them in my heart and with the sound of my voice until I can hold them in my arms.

Now, more than ever, while keeping a safe distance, we all need to hold on to each other.


  1. Kathy Armstrong says

    Thank you once again for a beautiful article. Thanks for wrapping us in a hug for another week. Look forward to your article and poignant words always.

  2. Sally Brown says

    You can not imagine how very much I look forward to your column each week..especially now! You and I are the same kind of grandmas….they are my heart ❤️ and soul. I am lucky enough to be close to mine…and my favorite thing to do is read to them!
    Thank you for being there for us and always sending light or way!

  3. Wonderful article. Yes, read yourself or to others…especially grandkids.

  4. “Isn’t it funny how so often, when we try to do something helpful for someone, it ends up being helpful for us, too?” Besides being a great question, it is the perfect line, too, Sharon. Blessings. We will persevere.

  5. Janis Mayfield says

    Thank you for this. I’m going to call someone and read to them!

  6. Kate Sciacca says

    Thanks for once again painting a beautiful picture with your words. Yes, these are interesting times – and I pray that our Blessed Lord will use this pandemic to bear much good fruit for His Kingdom.

    Last Tuesday I learned the Princess had all four kids at home… sick. And there was no Children’s Tylenol to be found at any of the stores near her…. then learned that other kids (and their kids) were running low on the coveted TP, napkins and Laundry detergent. So, of course, I hopped in my little Impreza, ran around town and found the necessary items (well, the TP had to come from my own supply) and off I went, over the hill, to meet my sweet red-headed DIL (and my two blonde granddaughters) “half-way” and “give ‘em the goods!” I met snow, hail, pounding rain and a bit of sunshine on my way there…. and back….life is like that – yes?

    Take care dear Sharon, May God bless you and yours 🙂

  7. Marge Cox says

    We live in Florida and I’ve been having storytime with our grandchildren in New York – a 4 year boy and almost 2 year old twins – boy and girl and a 5 year old granddaughter in California each day. We sometimes sing, too. It has been wonderful! I will be glad when health is not an issue, but I love this part of the time.

  8. Well said and necessary to digest! Thank you for your wonderful words of wisdom! 📖 📚

  9. You are such a sweet grand mom! God bless you !

  10. Janet Mann says

    Great read! Keep it up. We will survive this situation just like our parents and grandparents survived the great depression and WWII. Love your work.

  11. Cathy Followell says

    Thank you once again for your lovely words and thoughts on a subject near and dear to this Nana’s heart. I was awaiting this column to give me my Sharon Randall fix to help with what’s going on in the world. Your perspective on our daily lives and how to live life usually parallels many of my thoughts..you can just put it all into such loving words. My prayers for you, your babies and kids and all of us as we make our way through unchartered waters! God be with us and lead, guide and direct us all.

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