Wherever I go lately, people are lit up. It started here when we were graced with two straight days of sun following three full weeks of rain. Trees delayed by a very late winter suddenly flowered with a vengeance, as did allergies, but we didn’t mind. Spring has always drawn people here in the Northwest out from under our rocks to bask wherever (and whenever) we can. But this year is different, with a communal sense that we’ve made it through Something Big, Or several Somethings Big all at once. Global pandemic and Rampant Wildfire Big, just to start the list.
The fires are behind us for now, but we’re still assessing the damage. Old haunts and hidden gems have been erased. The mountains are still blackened with falling trees. But undergrowth and wildflowers are returning, and gradually homes and businesses are too, at least those that can. Even if it were possible to rebuild, the communities that burned to the ground will never be the same.
Wherever you live, whatever natural (or national) disaster you’ve faced, human hearts around you are just beginning to recover, still bruised from so many losses and so much fear. This is the great tragedy of all the Big Somethings we’ve faced: a reluctance to trust or rely on each other like we did before. Many of us are deeply lonely: statistics for the US say over 30% of adults and higher for young people, and these numbers are growing throughout the world. Even if we’re not lonely, we all long for connection, a problem that can seem overwhelming at first. But nothing could be more important. In the end, the best way to cure the cost of social distance is with social connection, which is the best glue to hold us all together as we move forward.
The facts are these: we’re all humans who are facing hard realities. AND we desperately need to be with others for mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. According to the brand-new US Surgeon General’s Advisory, a lack of social connection (or belonging) is a mortality risk greater than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The report is packed with research results, and it’s presented in a colorful, clear, and comprehensive form. The writing and graphics are compelling and easy to read, which is a bit surprising in a government document. Check it out here.
It’s a good thing that human beings usually have a strong need to belong. After all, our survival is at stake. But, just as important, we also have a longing to connect to something Bigger. Something Much Bigger. Bigger and Kinder.
Easier said than done. Loneliness and a desire to interact may motivate us to rebuild our lives, but the old ways don’t feel natural. We have changed and so has the world.
Social media, although lifesaving, doesn’t meet the biological desire for real presence. With eye contact. And conversation. (I know. I’m old fashioned.) So here we are: Longing to connect others and yet finding it uncomfortable to reach out. It may no longer feel intuitive to reach out to strangers, but we can do it.
All each of us can do is take a next step. The one that hasn’t happened yet. A smile, a wave, a kind word. Help a neighbor out. Assume good intentions. Notice the places you’d like to belong. Take the step you know to take. A coffee date, a volunteer shift, a language or yoga class, a family or community celebration, involvement with a cause that has meaning for you and for the world. Make your own list.
Each day brings a new opportunity to take the next awkward step. This is how we learned to walk, and it’s how we welcome ourselves back to humanity. Little by little.
May all of us find the courage and creativity to greet whatever (and whoever) awaits us as we honor the importance of belonging. Together.
Spring in the Land of Longing
I am from the land of cinnamon and longing
Chocolate and longing
Incense and longing
And I don’t belong here.
I don’t belong anywhere.
This is how we are in the Land of Longing.
We do not belong anywhere.
we feel the hope of flowering blossoms
Spring isn’t for us
because it reminds us (screams at us really)
that it’s leaving soon and so are we
it’s never as sweet
as that one time.
The people from my land
do not belong anywhere
Except that one place
the one that hasn’t happened yet.
That one. That’s the place.
A place to start.