One day when my father was about two years old, a strange man walked through the front door of his house.
This was Portsmouth, England. 1954. The U.K was still recovering from the Second World War. The rationing of meat and sugar was only just coming to an end.
My father, the little boy, didn’t recognise the man in his Naval unifrom. He’d never seen the man before, so, like a lot of little boys, you could forgive him for being a bit shy. A bit scared.
‘John,’ my Grandma would have gently coaxed him.
‘John, this is your father.’ My Grandad had returned from fighting in the Korean War to his wife and a son he was meeting for the first time.
I found myself thinking about that moment a few nights ago. That was one of the defining period’s of my father and my grandparents’ lives. My Grandad was serving his country, at war in the distant Pacific. My Grandma was at home in England with a baby. She must have felt very alone.
Of course, in those days, there wasn’t much you could do but send letters to each other. Maybe Grandma sent a photo or two. There was no such thing as phoning home for a yarn. Grandad’s messages would have passed through a military sensor to make sure he wasn’t sharing sensitive information. Who knows how long it took for he and Grandma to get their messages to each other. But they had no choice. Everyone knew the deal. That’s how it was in those days.
In one sense, it’s globalisation that has got us in this position. The coronavirus has spread wide and fast because people today move around the World with incredible ease.
But when I think about my grandparents and the generations just a few decades before me, their experiences and hardships, I feel so grateful for that connectivity.
This week I’ve video-called friends quarantining in Cambridge, in the U.K. I’ve connected with an mate in Copenhagen. I’ve shared selfies with an old school chum who’s running a coronavirus clinic in Australia, me in shorts and a T-shirt on the couch. He, in gloves, a mask protective goggles, and a medical gown.
I’ve shared funny videos with my friend Chloe in Toronto. I’ve had a cup of tea over Skype with Lee and Lindsay in New York and talked politics with a mate hunkering down by the border of Israel and Lebanon. I’ve had two different Skypes with my Granny in Adelaide. I’ve talked to my parents in Golden Bay most days and listened to my Dad jamming on his new guitar. I’ve spoken with each of my three siblings, and on a video call I’ve heard my nephew, Ren, say my name for the first time. ‘Jack’
We can’t touch, sure. We can’t hug, or high five or shake hands.
But we have never been more connected.
So, if like me, you’re missing people, be grateful for the things we sometimes take for granted. This isn’t a time to feel isolated. This isn’t a time to feel lonely. This is a time to do what I did several times this week. Pick up the phone and call Grandad.