A Life Well Lived – Josh Potter

Going out dancing with your mates. Travelling the world working with organisations like the World Health Organisation sneaking backstage to get Cliff Richard’s autograph.

“At the Olympia if you were clever you could actually, there was a back way and you could actually get autographs there if you knew what you were doing.”

That’s Michelle. She’s one of the people Engage are linked with. She and her befriender often chat about Reading in the 60s, about the dance halls and bowling alleys. She used to go out camping in the woods, exploring and adventuring, only returning home when she had run out of food.

Or there is Keith, whose life travelling the world has led to all manner of fascinating stories, including meetings with members of the royal family. This is all recollected very matter-of-factly, of course. To Keith it was just part of life.

Or maybe the adventures are closer to home. Maybe it’s about the friends you met along the way, like Julia, whose social life took a massive hit when Covid-19 knocked on Britain’s door.

Lest we forget, life is lived by all

It seems a simple idea, that life is lived by all, that we all have stories to share. Yet who among us can say we have not forgotten? We get so consumed by our own lives, caught in our own worlds. We don’t realise that going out dancing with your mates could mean heading to the Purple Turtle. Or it might mean heading to the best dance hall in the 1960s for a night of swing dancing and jive.

And sneaking backstage? Well maybe Cliff Richard isn’t your cup of tea. Maybe you prefer the latest to headline Glastonbury. Just remember when you’re jumping up and down to Billie Eilish singing Bad Guy in a crowd of thousands that fifty years ago your grandparents just might have been doing the same thing.

Enter Engage

Engage work with the elderly and isolated. Individuals who find themselves in their later years alone and unable to engage as much with society as they would want. The concept is simple. A conversation. A phone call – or a visit once COVID-19 dies down – once a week or so to chat. Volunteers, called Befrienders, make the call, chatting with their Befriendee about anything and everything under the sun.

It’s about remembering that the isolated are human too, that they have lives lived. You might talk about the past, about memories from a time gone by. You might talk about the present, about the exciting and the mundane.

Conversation is a two-way street

Who knows? Conversation is a two-way street after all, it’s an image of each of you growing in the mind of the other. Maybe you love to go dancing in Reading’s modern clubs. Maybe you love travelling and want to learn about the world. Maybe you love hosting people, swapping tips and tricks for the best house party.

And you might learn about the personal experiences of past events.

“I remember him telling me that they had been bombed out, literally their house had been bombed during the war and the challenges with that and the whole evacuation process.”

Not all the stories are fun and light, as Janine, a volunteer for Engage, points out. But that’s the importance of remembering. The past several decades on this planet have harvested a great deal of tales, and whether you are eighty-five or eighteen, you’ve accumulated your fair share.

Everyone has a story

Whatever your age and your background, your ethnicity and your sexual orientation, you have a story. And there is more in our stories that unites us with each other than there is that divides us.

Connor, another volunteer for Engage, said it best. “I always feel that I’ve succeeded if I’ve made somebody laugh. You come off the phone and you’ve both had a laugh and you feel so much better.”

Perfect. A chat and a laugh. A conversation. A way of remembering that we all have lives. Whether life for you began in the 1950s or the 2000s, we’ve all lived our own experiences and we all have stories to tell.

Note: Names have been changed to protect people’s privacy.