I received a Whatsapp message from a very close friend, with a photo of her new employment badge.
She had recently migrated to a new country along with her family. It had been a major decision for them, uprooting themselves from their current comfort zone and attempting a replant in a completely new and possibly alien environment.
Things did not go well at first, to say the least. It became difficult, almost impossible even, to find a job, especially given the current covid situation. They were struggling to find a house to move into. Things rapidly went downhill, and they even began to genuinely regret their original decision to migrate. It very soon came to a point when they called me up one day and said they were seriously considering returning. They did not want to be in a "neither here, nor there" situation, especially considering their son's school term.
There was not much for me to say, other than listening to them narrate how difficult things were and how lonely they found themselves. They are like a brother and sister to me, and I gently told them to not take any hasty decisions. I encouraged them to hang on for a few weeks more and assured them that things will change for the better. For most of the call, it was just me listening to them, and simply encouraging them to hang on. We agreed to keep in touch at least once a week. Every weekend, they would call me, and by God's grace, things began to look up. They managed to find a good school for their son, soon found a good house to move into and the icing on the cake was the new job that she had just got. In a matter of weeks, things had changed for the better. When I talked to them last week, they said how much our calls had meant to them - just the fact that there was a listening ear to whom they could pour out their frustrations, was probably what mattered most. I had not given them any big ideas. I had just asked them to hang on, had given them some hope to look forward to; but most of all as they had pointed out, it was an assurance that there was someone they could call up and someone who would listen to their outpouring.
Many years ago when I was still in school, I remember the passing away of one of my favourite teacher's husband. I had seen the obituary in the newspaper. A few days after the funeral, on my way back from school, I dropped by teacher's house. This was not a decision that I had planned earlier; it was more of an instinctive act. I am a person of very less words, and was of even lesser words as a child! I remember the look of surprise on teacher's face upon seeing me. I didn't say much, almost nothing at all - it was teacher who did the talking, describing how uncle had not been well for a while, how much they had loved each other and how much she and her daughter missed him, now that he was not around them anymore. I left after staying there for a couple of hours.
I visited her a few more times during those days; most times teacher would talk, I would sit and listen. We would have coffee together. I remember completing my homework at her house one day, before I went on home! Long years after, teacher recalled how much the presence of a little schoolboy had meant to her during those days of grief and loss. I must confess that I did not realize the impact that my visits had on her; but looking back I am so glad that I had made those stops on my way home from school.
There are many avenues where we can render substantial and tangible help to those around us. But especially in today's times, I believe there is an equally important need that many of us can meet, more in thought and spirit, than in any physical or material manner. We can all be ears that are willing to listen - not always to offer a solution to a problem or to give advice, but just to give some assurance to a heart that may be desperately longing for a reassuring hug, an encouraging pat on the shoulder, a comforting touch, a few words of hope or maybe just an understanding nod and smile - most of all just as a presence around them and just to be there for them in a moment of need.