At the end of the 2011 About Women and Creativity Conference, on Curacao, its founder invited me to her home for a regular Sunday afternoon gathering she called, “The Reading Circle.” Curious, I accepted.

Beginning around 3:45, people began gathering. The range of generational and gender diversity surprised me.  There were women in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s; an eight-month-old baby; a three-year-old girl; a 12-year-old boy; a 17-year-old young man; young women between the ages of 16 and 21, and a man in his late 50s.

We congregated in her park – a large, lush garden filled with every variety of vegetation you can imagine.  Each person carried books.   The children had theirs in their own small, tie-dyed bags.   Sitting in a circle, we talked as we enjoyed a cool drink, our skin kissed by the warm island winds.

At 4 o’clock, our host, Reyna Joe took her seat and welcomed everyone to “The Reading Circle.”  “We’ll begin as always, the little ones first.” With that, she placed Victoria on her lap and handed her a book. For about 10 minutes, baby Victoria cooed and “talked” and shook her book, holding it above her head, then, turning the pages.   Everyone present gave Victoria his or her full attention.  No one talked, appeared bored or looked as if they were wondering when it would be over.

When Victoria “finished” her book and handed it to Reyna, making eye contact, Reyna asked, “Are you finished?”   Victoria returned her gaze and signaled she wanted to get down.  She had had her turn.

As if on cue, the three year old grabbed her bag excitedly, choosing a book titled, “I Decide.”  With everyone’s eyes on her, she began to read…I mean really read the words.  As she read, her mother coached her.  “A little louder, we can’t hear you, sweetie.”  She spoke more loudly.   “Hold the book down a little so we can see your face, honey.”   She did as encouraged, reading her book twice before handing it to her mother. Experienced at public speaking, benefiting from effective coaching, some day soon, this little girl will be a remarkably skilled presenter.  She’s learning already.

Once the youngest two had their turns, volunteers were invited to share what they brought to the circle.  Some read a short story. Others read a poem or a brief passage from a favorite book.  For two hours, around the circle we went, taking turns reading aloud to an audience of dedicated listeners.  While I had never experienced a reading circle before, I’m certain I’ll remember this one.

I was amazed at the lack of a generation gap and the quality of undivided attention each reader was given.   What a beautiful way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon.  It was simple and inexpensive entertainment.  It was a great way to encourage a love of reading and build the skills and confidence of all who participated – children and adults.   It was a joy to see and be a part of this manifestation of the spectrum of life – from the eight month old to those in their 60s – all finding pleasure in each other’s company.

In many ways, with the advent of technology – from television to telephones to computers to PDAs to iPods – we’re more isolated and less contactful.  Today, we spend less time interacting each other, particularly across the generations – less time in the same physical space, engaged in the same activity; less time giving each other the loving gift of our full, undistracted attention; less time talking, learning, relating across generations and genders, strengthening our ability to comfortably and confidently relate to people of all ages.

Given the quality of interaction I experienced during “The Reading Circle,” I was reminded of how beneficial cross-generational settings and conversations were for me.  I believe they can help more of us feel less alone and more connected; to be seen and accepted by others.   They can help us develop and refine skills – reading, presentation and coaching skills. Coming together for pleasurable, constructive reasons gives us an opportunity to learn about and affirm each other’s interests.

Could coming together in this way, whether to read or play charades or tell stories, help you bridge the generation gap in your world?   Could you make this idea, or something like it, work in your circles of influence?  With your family?  With a group of friends?   With your kids and their friends, as well as their friend’s parents and grandparents?  With people in your neighborhood?

What can you do to bring generations together to honor the young and old, and to be seen and affirmed…to be the recipient of a multi-generational group’s loving, undivided attention?

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