Reality as we know it, with “COVID-normal” making this clearer than ever, has taught us that empathy and kindness go a long way. It has also made us realise that we are not that different after all and that we are united through the same basic, yet no so basic, needs. At a time when some of us have managed to gain access to a world on hold; one still very much under lock and key, and have traversed geographical boundaries against all odds, in my case I have made it all the way from the Far South to the Far North. Here, my main company is 70+ year-olds, so called senior citizens with a wealth of wisdom, experiences, clues and insights to share.

One thing that unites those physically close to me at the moment is their discerning attitude towards life – a refreshingly no-nonsense, unsentimental directness – and their capacity to focus on what really matters while they step away from themselves, engage in conversation and meet the other on an equal platform, really seeing and listening to each other. Gone are frivolities of youth, no longer centre stage, and material things matter less. Instead, the company they keep matters more than ever.

There is a lot to learn from those around us who have at this stage “seen it all”, who have been there and done that. And contrary to what many of us believed during our more, or less, productive work lives, we are not the centre of the universe, nor are we really that important from a larger perspective. Rather, we gain value when we allow ourselves to become influenced by someone else, when we look beyond ourselves and pay attention to the Other and when we are likewise depended on in a healthy and humane manner. This mature, real connection on a soul to soul level is what we are presumably all yearning for but we tend to get lost amidst our frantic hunt for a companion to satisfy our “aesthetic preferences” and sometimes also our physical desires. Spontaneous interaction can unfold naturally when there is less expectations, less neediness and we give each other space, thus allowing the other to come to us freely and without pressure – be this a partner, a friend, a blood relative or even a colleague who hears us out without pressure (and the reverse).

Speaking for myself, this time of physical distance to people that matter in countries far away, across the seven seas and the multiple time zones that separate us, has seen individuals in my network really step up to the occasion. An impromptu phone call, a chat or a message; technology bridges physical divides and distance disappears in favour of a warm voice asking the right questions in what becomes a healing, interconnecting moment.

Generosity and kindness, the ability to release and let go in order for friends and significant others to come to us willingly, safely sharing how they feel, and the courage to forget about ourselves and really see the other for who they are at the core – these are values I will bring with me as we have just celebrated the omnipotent, life-affirming Diwali Festival of Light and now approach December and a Christmas period that marks the end of a difficult year. 2020 has taught us to step away from material hype, to scale down, “declutter our emotions” and see the light. Less is more, it cannot be emphasised enough. As we step into an uncertain future, our interrupted reality of today has allowed us to see the highs in the lows, to hold on to the silence between the words and to explore greater depths while we come up for air with a greater understanding and certainty of what really matters.