By Val Walker author of 400 Friends and No One to Call

In the long, lonely stretches of living through this pandemic, it might be helpful to remember people from our past who once supported us. It’s likely that some of them are far away from us in miles and decades, though they may have once been vital in our lives—or main characters in other chapters of our lives.

Perhaps, during these times of social distancing and self-quarantine, this just might be the right opportunity to go back into the connections from our past. We could explore our closets, our memorabilia, old notebooks, greeting cards, high school yearbooks, photo albums, ancient email addresses, or even our Rolodexes. If we are lucky, we might spot a person’s contact information, or make a list of a few long-lost connections to contact—our cousins, a classmate, a colleague, childhood friend, or roommate.

Why not try a call—just a quick start-up phone call—a “blast from the past.” COVID-19 is the perfect excuse to check in with people we’ve had on the back burner for too long, and further, this pandemic gives us a good reason to reach out and ask, “I’ve wondered how you are doing.” Or, “How are you holding up these days?”

On one dreary, rainy morning, after turning off the COVID news on CNN, I rummaged through my closet to pull out old photo albums. Slowly sipping two cups of coffee, I spent hours poring over photos from my hippie days of the 1970s when I wandered throughout Europe with a knapsack and stayed in youth hostels. One of the photos was a group shot of me and four young nurses from Australia and Scotland, all squeezed together, sitting at a little table in a cramped kitchen. I recognized my friend, Morna, and noticed that we were in her modest flat in Edinburgh. I had not seen her for twenty years, not since my divorce, when she flew all the way from Scotland to visit me in Virginia. She had divorced that same year, 1999, and our common heartbreak at the end of our marriages provided a week’s worth of mutual commiseration. We had both ended up childless as well—so much to grieve, and yet, we had each other’s understanding and acceptance.

We hadn’t talked since the last time we Skyped in 2018. It was high time to reach out and I sent her an email to arrange our call. Our long Skpe visit allowed us to not only catch up but to wrap our minds around the perplexity and uncertainty of these pandemic times. I admired her ability to live one day at a time while in great limbo. She was spending most of her time in her garden, creating new patches for vegetables to grow, alongside a few new tulips, and experimenting with where to place a small sculpture I had given her as a gift. Our conversation encouraged me to turn once again to nature, to the return of spring, to whatever gives us a sense of constancy, normalcy, and ritual. After a heart-to-heart with Morna, I re-entered my day, feeling blessed with our friendship, and hopeful that on the next sunny day, I would take a leisurely walk by the community garden in my neighborhood. I marveled at how our friendship has lasted for over forty years because we have kept in touch. It’s all about keeping in touch—like tending a garden—friendships need tending, just as our relationships depend on us to check-in, to care, to listen, and appreciate one another. This pandemic can make us feel that we don’t matter and don’t count, falling into a collective sense of loneliness. But to break from the grip of isolation, we can reach out to people from our past who liked us long before it was important to get “likes” on social media. We can look for the ones who knew us long before we ever lost our job, lost our hope, confidence, sense of certainty, lost our loved ones or lived through COVID-19.

Hopefully, a sense of honoring and rekindling our long-lasting bonds, near and far, can serve as an antidote for these isolating and chaotic times. I highly recommend reaching out to our long-lost connections and rediscovering a treasure trove of enduring friendships and fellowships. It’s downright magical when people reach out to us on days we feel invisible. Indeed, any one of us can take action to make the call, to be the one who asks, “How are you holding up?” We have the power to create little sanctuaries of belonging with one another, just with the kindness in our voices.

Let’s not shy away.

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