The Life-Affirming Necessity: Connection
Last night Michael, my husband, emerged from his basement man-cave after all was quiet upstairs and greeted me with, "You were making quite a ruckus!" No, I wasn't breaking social distance requirements, unlike much of America this past weekend. Instead, I was on my weekly Zoom book discussion with friends from church. After 8 weeks I've figured it out - that is, figured out how to connect with friends, for now, in a way that engages me, animates me, makes me feel seen and affirmed. I've realized it is this weekly group discussion that is keeping me grounded, feeding my extrovert needs, as I fully absorb the reality that social distancing will be necessary until a vaccine for covid-19 is available.
We are wired for connection. Culturally, we see this reflected in the southern African concept of Ubuntu, a concept of personhood that poses a challenge to persons who think of themselves as individuals; with Ubuntu, the identity of the self is understood to be formed interdependently through community. In other words, "I am because you are." In Lakota Indian language, this same concept is shared in their greeting, "Mitayuye Oyasin", which means, "all my relations," reflecting a worldview of interconnectedness and oneness.
In geeky trauma-informed language we say, "a single neuron does not exist in nature." Hey, whatever gets the point across, right?
Valuing connection as necessity, as vital, doesn't jive with the American value of individualism, that rogue, "live free or die" mindset. I am finding it simultaneously fascinating and deeply frightening to watch as people disregard science and gather in groups, overcrowding beaches, parks, and even backyards...because Americans will assert their individual freedom so that they can...be connected! At the risk of others' lives, maybe even their own lives.
We know that isolation is unhealthy. I heard Dan Gottlieb yesterday on NPR saying loneliness shortens lifespans and lowers our immunity. So what do we do to stay healthy during this pandemic? Dr. Gottlieb cited research that showed how experiencing joy causes the same responses in our bodies that connection does (elevates oxytocin and dopamine levels - I know, I just can't help it). He recommends that we intentionally do something joyful every single day. My Credo friend, Bob Stice, would refer to this as realistic optimism. Others might call it guilty pleasure - but please now drop the word "guilty" from that phrase and realize it is a necessity these days (maybe all days? Maybe wisdom to be drawn from this time). I love a lesson I learned, also heard on NPR one morning, when a woman who had once been incarcerated shared lessons she learned from her time in prison. "I'm a hugger!" she exclaimed, "It was really hard for me to follow the rules and not touch or even come close to anyone. So I learned to connect in other ways. When we were out walking, I would draw a big heart in the air when I passed a friend, and shout out what I was feeling. It got me through."
Drawing a heart in the air and saying what I was feeling was the way I showed my friend and now former pastor my filia love on his last Sunday as we drove by in our car. This social distancing IS hard. I find myself breaking the rules occasionally with a young neighbor, feeling like he won't feel seen or heard in his struggles if I have a mask on. Writing this is reminding me that that's not true. I can show empathy - which is the heart of connection - no matter how physically near I am to someone...after all, it was empathy that I received from my book group last evening, and it caused quite a ruckus!