“The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food.”~ Dean Ornish.
It was my good fortune as a child growing up in Jamaica, to have aunts who would send packages at Christmas. Well they would be intended for Christmas, but as to when they arrived, that was another matter. Air mail from the UK was very expensive, so they were sent ‘Surface’ mail – which meant that they came over land and sea. The ‘post by’ dates were at best a guestimate. But whenever they arrived, they were a tantalizing treat, layers of brown paper over individually gift-wrapped presents. The best period of childhood is when the cost of the gift is unrelated to the pleasure generated. Some of my favorite gifts were books: story books; illustrated books; and best of all: puzzle books. Before there was candy crush, before online jigsaw puzzles, we had coloring books and paper dolls with cut-out clothes.
One of my favorites was the ‘join-the-dots’ games. With your pencil you would draw a line connecting randomly placed numbers, until eventually a picture emerged: a clown, or a bird, or an orangutan. The older you got, the more complicated the design; it would be impossible to guess at until you began to connect the dots. In my day, interactive meant you picked up a pencil, or crayons, or scissors and interacted with paper. And if you sat in one place for too long, you were liable to be told to go outside and interact with the outdoors!
As life gets more technological, and we gain the ability to enjoy virtual reality, we seem to be losing touch with actual life. We are able to vicariously enjoy the travels of our friends, watch their videos as they visit the seven wonders of the world; we can be silent observers of the fun-filled lives of others. Social media has created an ever-widening reach for us to ‘meet up’ with old friends; to keep in touch with long lost family members; to share in celebratory moments that we would otherwise have missed. But it also creates a false illusion. Very few of us post our failures, those moments when we were at our lowest. And those who do may receive an outpouring of support and love, but does that replace a phone call, a face-to-face visit?
The world of Hollywood has replaced the fairytales of our childhood, those automatic happy endings. As a teen I often consumed those addictive ‘Harlequin romances’ – boy meets girl; boy and girl hate each other; boy meets a different girl; first girl realizes she love the boy; boy realizes he loves her; all manner of obstacles keep them apart until the page before last. Same formula, different names, outfits, eras, predictable yet still addictive. We are conditioned to expect happy endings, problems with solutions, somebody riding in to save the day.
Real life is messy, and tragic, and unfair, and imperfect. Solutions may require sacrifice. Hard choices have to be made. It may take a while before we can see that the worst challenges we have had to overcome actually resulted in a far better outcome than the one we had hoped for. Yet while we are in the midst of our anguish, our trials and tribulations, we cannot see beyond the immediate to a brighter possibility. While we are entangled and consumed by the messiness of our particular drama, we forget that we have a support system that we can call on. We forget that there is nothing new under the sun, and someone somewhere has been through the same if not worse, and survived.
When we find out that a friend has been through a particularly harrowing experience alone we often ask ‘Why didn’t you call me?’ We are not meant to travel through life alone, but pride, stubbornness, keeping up appearances often contribute to that belief. We think we are supposed to figure things out by ourselves, that somehow vulnerability is weakness. We forget that we are all connected.
I recently read about a math teacher who was deeply affected by the Columbine shooting back in 1999. She recognized that there are kids that go through school shunned by their classmates, seen as ‘different’ and not fitting in. What she has done each Friday since then is to have her students write down on a piece of paper four students they would like to sit next to in class the next week. She also has them nominate a ‘student of the week’, someone who has been special in class. She then analyzes which of the class may not have been named by anyone, she looks for patterns, for a child who doesn’t even know who to name. She then goes out of her way to make sure those kids who are neglected or unnoticed are included. She may also spot who are potentially being bullied, or even who the bullies are. She is making sure to connect the dots.
We are already beginning to see studies that link depression to excessive involvement with social media. Our children (or perhaps grandchildren) are growing up in a world that is constantly and addictively wired. They are linked in to a network of youtube videos and games; of instant everything, and may be losing out on the value of face-to-face and real time interactivity. They may be losing the human touch.
Our challenge is to maintain our connections. In our neighborhood there may be people who feel isolated, whose family is far away, that need someone to physically check up on them. We may need to maintain our own connection to nature, by visiting a park, touching a leaf, digging in the dirt. We may have forgotten how to pick up the phone to have a conversation, so much easier to text. When my father died I received sympathy cards in the mail, and the knowledge that people had stopped at the store, selected a card was very reassuring in an old-fashioned way. When last did you read a hand-written letter?
This Friday morning I hope that all your connections are fully functional and supporting you in a positive way. Have a wonderful weekend, Family!