Four years ago this month my father died. It was not sudden; he had been very poorly for some time. Thankfully, the end for him was peaceful and at home. He left us in the embrace of his three children and holding my mother’s hand. I think of him every day.
As the anniversary came, and I raised a glass to a gentle and humble man, I put outside my conscious mind all the pressing moments of my world and spent a few quiet minutes just thinking about him. These moments of peacefulness that I spend with my dad, away from the noise, are as precious as ever; a shared gift from him to me and from me to him.
This year I was struck by another thought; one that is cast by the shadow of these Covid times. It is an overwhelming sense of just how precious and powerful the act of pausing becomes when we use it to think about those who we care about, but from whom we are temporarily disconnected. It becomes something precious and powerful for ourselves, but also for those who are in our thoughts..
In these distanced and interrupted times where we are denied even a simple hug to replenish our dehydrated souls, perhaps more than ever we need to make time to think about others. Such thoughts, however, should not be a glancing brush with something rushing past, or a fleeting nod to polite etiquette. It should be a contemplative and deliberate reflection that we undertake without the accompaniment of life’s rude and noisy running commentaries.
If we could do this, would it not be one of the kindest and most generous acts of friendship that we could offer? Goodness me, what a gift for the people for whom we paused our world to stillness, so that they might enter a space we have made for them.
The time will come again, of course, when we can hug again, but while we wait to be back in a world where all our senses reconnect, my encouragement is to make time to honour the people we care about with the gift of making a space in our minds for them to be with us.
“Thinking of you” should never again be a half-empty throwaway line in a friendly email, typed by muscle memory. When we next write these words to a friend or colleague, it should be reporting a purposeful act, like that of an artistic curator who has been hanging thoughts and memories in a gallery of calm inside our heads.
It is an act to tell someone that they have been seen.
It says we cared enough to make time for their presence in our minds, and it offers a bridge for their vulnerabilities to cross.
It is a connection as a hug would be; because it is not the words that matter, but the kindness of the act itself, a loving and human thing that we can all practice and all receive.
As we emerge from our isolation, much will be written about what we have learned and perhaps what leadership might mean in a post Covid world. In the rush to replace, rebuild and renew our economic vigour, my hope is that leadership may also include such acts of contemplation as I have described. In the end isn’t that fundamental to what leadership means? Pausing to care enough for others that they have a space in our thoughts, and where those people know we cared enough to make that space for them.