We’re living in strange, unexpected times and there’s so much that’s tough about our new way of life. But what I love is the way people have pulled together, helping each other, celebrating the wonderful work carried out in our society who are often overlooked. For me this feels like an opportunity to share everything we have in common, even if that’s from a distance.

And one of the best ways we can do this is by listening.

I’m a telephone volunteer for Independent Age so I know what an important and vital thing it is to listen well. Checking up on people, giving them the opportunity to talk and to feel truly heard can make such a difference. I know that making that regular call and showing an interest can change someone’s week and show them they’re not alone. 

During coronavirus I’ve been able to expand my role as a volunteer. Usually I call my gentleman once a week, at the same time, on the same day. Since lockdown I’m calling him far more. I’ve given him the chance to discuss the effects of staying indoors. We talk together about how we feel about the daily news updates and the statistics of deaths. Neither of us forgets that each number represents a human life and a family. We’re making sure everyone is remembered and acknowledged, and that’s as it should be.

... one of the best ways we can do this is by listening.

We talk about the fact that our families can’t visit us and we can’t visit them: the loneliness that this can bring and the feelings of relief that our loved ones are taking care of themselves. We cheer each other up about positive stories we’ve heard. We laugh at the conspiracy theories and Donald Trump. There’s never been a more important time to share something funny and have a smile on your face.

It’s so important for people to know that even if we can’t see each other face to face, we can still be in contact. We can learn and listen and nurture each other.

This is the time to remember how important listening is. I believe we can verbalise our feelings more easily when we’re alone than if we’re with someone. You can’t be put off by the other person’s body language. Giving someone the opportunity to talk can bring out so many details, so much information, so many memories. Listening well brings trust and understanding. It shows someone you care. When you’re on the phone perhaps because you can’t see someone or smell their cooking or be distracted by what’s on their mantlepiece, the words have more weight and the tone of voice is more important than if you were sitting in the armchair next to them.

I spoke to someone the other day who said he wasn’t happy. I asked him why he wasn’t happy. He said, ‘I want to get out. I want someone here to see me face to face.’ I encouraged him instead to take the opportunity to talk, to listen, to go slower in his life, to focus on what makes us all feel richer as human beings. 

It’s so important for people to know that even if we can’t see each other face to face, we can still be in contact. We can learn and listen and nurture each other.

I reminded him that ‘this, too, will pass’. This situation will not be permanent. It’s important to remember that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. I do believe he heard me. 

But let’s not wait for that time to come to do all we can with our lives. Let’s get used to the way we’ve stopped focusing on the clock as much as we used to. When we stop the rushing and the busy journeys, we see a great deal we may have missed out on before.

How different life is when we don’t wake up to the alarm clock; when the whole day is free of appointments and journeys. I’ve been doing the cleaning I’ve always promised myself I would. I’ve found things in my wardrobe I don’t even remember buying! With the help of photo albums I use this time to relive happy times from the past. I use whatever I can find in the cupboard to create new recipes.

This is a time to stop and reflect on our lives, to develop new ways of thinking. This can be challenging but it can also be powerful and significant. Many of us may find ourselves with more time to spend with our families. Others will have to draw on our own resources and cope in the best possible way without the presence of another.  

Yet we are all part of a community. We can all consider others, just as we think about ourselves. We can give ourselves a rest, mentally and physically. We must allow ourselves that time to pause, think and find new ways to look after ourselves and other people. And one way to do that is to pick up the phone.