I grew up a lonely and often-bullied or ostracized little girl. I wore hand-me-downs that were ten years old (and possibly out-dated when their original owners got them). I wore leg braces and running shoes – often with a dress, just to up the awkwardness of the look. I couldn’t run and play easily on the playground. I was good at school and socially inept at the same time, which is a terrible combination. And I was constantly in pain.
None of this made for an easy time building deep connections or relationships with those around me.
It doesn’t help that I wasn’t allowed to watch the same TV shows as my peers or listen to the same music that they listened to and I was physically incapable of joining in with the games that were being played, so I had little understanding of the world of those around me. And if you add to that starting puberty early and having lots of very unusual experiences (like 10 operations before I finished grade 8) that few people around me could understand, you start to see just how much I was up against!
So it felt like there were very limited opportunities for connection as a child.
And the more people’s stories I hear the more I realize that I was by no means the only one dealing with this kind of disconnection.
In fact, I am by no means alone when I say that we are dealing with incredible levels of disconnection right now as a society.
This disconnection is felt in our opiod crisis.
This disconnection is felt in our mental health crisis.
This disconnection is felt in our race issues, our class divisions, the trend toward increasing fundamentalism in many religions and our response to our refugee crisis. And although social media can help to curb our disconnection to a point, for many people it can also serve to simply make them feel more isolated and more alone.
But I am increasingly convinced that it doesn’t have to stay like this!
A number of years ago we became part of a community that prioritizes connection.
To begin with, it was a bit of a surprise. This community walked into each others’ homes without waiting for the door to be answered. They knew where each others’ kettles were and would start the coffee without being asked. They shared the realities of the ups and downs of life with one another, and didn’t seem to be afraid of judgment – no matter what was going on.
I had never experienced the kind of welcome that this community offered me before, and as much as it scared me, I also realized I was desperate for it.
Slowly I began to join in.
Slowly I began to let my well-constructed walls down.
Slowly I began to open our door, to show others where our kettle was, and to share the deeper hurts and pains, joys and excitements of our lives with those who had shared these things with us.
And as I did so, hurts began to heal.
As I did so, they challenged and encouraged me to make the changes I wanted to make, but was too scared to try.
As I did so, courage and joy and patience and compassion took root in my life because others planted the seeds of these things in me through our connection.
It was a huge risk, in the beginning. I had been hurt many times over, and I was more than a little bit wary about trusting them.
But about a year after we joined this community we found out that not one, not two, but (at least) three members of our family were on the autism spectrum, and their response was to learn whatever they could about autism’s unique gifts and challenges so that they could understand and love us better.
Then two years ago when our eldest came out as gender non-conforming our community chose love, and wrapped their arms around us as a family, helping us through the transition so that we could love our child well through their transition.
And last year, when I ended up in an out-of-town hospital unexpectedly for six weeks, our community chose love, and showed up in the most practical ways possible – to wash dishes, make meals, hang out with our kiddos, drive people back and forth to the hospital an hour and a half away and keep my husband from loosing his mind with worry.
This community has stuck by us through thick and thin, and through them, I have learned that whatever it looks like on the outside, we are more alike than we might appear.
I have learned that if I want to survive and thrive, then I need deep connections.
I have learned that if I want to grow into the best version of myself possible, that growth will depend on deep connections.
And I have learned that if I have anything to offer those around me, it is found when I extend deep connections to them.
For me, the question has become not, ‘do I need connection’ but ‘how do I best form connections in the midst of our busy, chaotic and disconnected lives’?
But that’s a question for another day …