‘Hi, how are you?’: Learning to reconnect remotely

Reaching out to loved ones is more important than ever, and it doesn’t have to be complicated

It doesn’t hurt to reach out to people you care about.

I can’t believe it will be March in less than two months.

It doesn’t feel like it’s been almost a year since I was franticly packing, booking overpriced plane tickets, and finding a way to get to the airport as announcements of borders closing and rising COVID-19 cases broke daily.

Needless to say, living through a pandemic has changed my life—but not entirely for the worse.

For me, 2020 was full of emotional growth and new lessons. The past year has taught me the importance of reaching out to my loved ones, even as we were apart.

My shift in perspective initially stemmed from learning about my brother’s struggle with depression. He’s someone with a happy-go-lucky personality, someone who can naturally brighten up a space with his presence alone.

But his sadness was slowly consuming him bit by bit, and no one knew anything about it.

“I am depressed, jie,” he told me one afternoon over the phone.

As he told me about the dark clouds that had been looming by for the last five years, I was in disbelief. How could I have missed the signs?

“Please don’t tell Mom or Dad,” he pleaded. “I don’t need them worrying about me when there are other things going on.”

As I began to realize how long he had been struggling, I couldn’t stop myself from internalizing blame. Had I been so wrapped up in my own problems that I wasn’t available enough for my own brother to reach out and seek help?

The pandemic has been hard for everyone, and we all have our own struggles and issues we’re working through. But a question as simple as “How are you?” could go a long way toward making someone feel less disconnected and alone.

Until recently, I’d never truly grasped the power of that question—and it took a whole pandemic for me to see it.

After my brother confided in me, I began to reach out to friends and family, especially those I hadn’t spoken to in a while, and it all started with one text: “Hey, how have you been?”

The minute the news broke that both Canada and Taiwan were closing their borders to travelers, many of the people I knew from high school were scrambling to book a one-way ticket home. The future was uncertain—many of us didn’t know when or if we’d be able to return to our respective institutions for the coming school year.

But because of that text, I knew everyone was safe. Nobody was stranded abroad—or worse, sick. I felt better knowing all of my friends, past and present, had made it home safely to quarantine and reunite with their families.

By opening this simple line of communication, I was able to reconnect with my middle school best friend who moved back to Singapore in eighth grade. The next thing I knew, I was on a three-hour call with her learning about all the things she had accomplished since we last spoke. Because I reached out, I had meaningful conversations with peers I’d never exchanged words with that scratched beneath the surface of “How did you do on your algebra quiz?”

It’s easy to get lost in our own problems and struggles. But sometimes it doesn’t hurt to reach out to people you care about—it could benefit you both. Learning that everyone I once went to school with was okay cleared my clouds of worries and allowed me to look to the future. The world has too many negative headlines, so it’s nice to have some positive news once in a while.

While there will still be a lot of uncertainties in 2021, I’m going into the year with a new mindset and, perhaps, a new catchphrase: “Hi, how are you?” 

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