It’s so easy to take people for granted when they live around the corner. But since we’ve been out in Sedona, Arizona, our nearest family members are over 2000 miles away – a little too far for a casual cup of coffee or a sushi lunch.

I’ve been missing that coffee and sushi so this past weekend we traveled to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and points east and south to visit with kids, in-laws, a nephew, and brother and sister-in-law. It was a bit of a whirlwind but totally worth the trip.

I hadn’t spent time alone with my daughter, Lauren, since before her wedding last October (when we were mostly crazed) but somehow we managed to carve out a few hours together on Saturday. It was overcast and drizzly, and it reminded me of some of the moments of quiet connection we were able to share when we both lived in New Jersey.

 Those moments were significant because the rest of the time we were down in the trenches, doing battle in the War of the Teenage Years. You may remember those days. They were not easy and respite, when it came, was usually in the form of a sudden realization that the other person was not an alien being but rather someone a bit like you. For a few moments, or a half hour if you were lucky, you’d get to enjoy the peaceful, warm feelings that come with that spontaneous recognition.

Many of these moments were shared when Lauren and I went out for sushi together. From the time she was a five or six, we used to head to our local sushi place when we needed space for some private conversation. We’d split our order of California and rainbow rolls, pour green tea into tiny white cups and know that we were in a safe zone for sharing our feelings. It was an intimate ritual.

So this day we drove to her favorite Japanese restaurant and for the first time in several years were able to share those rolls again – just the two of us. We looked at each other across the table and marveled at how something we once accepted as just a normal part of life had become, over time and great distances, a major event.

Sushi Moments = special connections.

Now that she’s an adult, Lauren has evolved into a person much more like me, and I love to share the things that bring us together. Unbelievably, one of those things is organizing. (I never would have suspected this from the condition of her bedroom when she was growing up.) When we returned from lunch we sat down on her living room floor and went through some folders and notebooks from her college classes.

Connecting with this aspect of her life was riveting. I watched her face while I listened to her reminiscences of her great professors and the not-so-great; her aha! experiences while researching a paper; her wistful recollections of student bonds forged in foreign countries. I’ve found that a big part of connecting is simply bearing witness to the life experiences of another.

And connecting, for me, is the juice of life.

It’s way too easy to become complacent about sushi moments; to assume that people and places will be there forever and to behave accordingly. It’s shockingly simple and sad to let life become a series of weddings and funerals – to let events dictate how you’ll see family and when.

The fact is that sushi moments come about most often because you plan for them. If you desire connection, you need to create the circumstances that allow it to occur.  Lauren and I had some terrific sushi moments last weekend because we wanted them and arranged our lives so they could take place. Maybe you have to fly across the country to do that. Or maybe you just have to pick up the phone and invite a certain person to lunch.

 Sushi moments can take place on the phone or computer, but in-person is much more satisfying. You can use all of your senses while connecting and see things that you might otherwise miss, especially with older people who might not be as comfortable as you are in a digital world. When you really connect, you’re not multi-tasking. You’re totally present in the moment which is where you should be.

If you can manage it, do it; go out for coffee, eat sushi or organize files, but spend some more time with the folks you’d miss if they were no longer around. It’s one of life’s few indulgences that you’ll never regret.

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