I believe in the sustaining power of connections.
Back when the earth was till cooling, I grew up in a village in Ohio nestled in the midst of forests and cornfields. Six hundred souls created my community. This imitation of Our Town laid the foundation of my belief in connecting. Back then, children’s and adults’ lives were tightly interwoven. Nick was the postmaster and we knew he read our postcards. When we picked up our mail, he’d ask about the friends who wrote to us from faraway places and he listened to our answers. Other grownups connected with us at church by giving us Sunday lessons and buying endless quarts of apple butter to finance our youth trip to New York. They connected in school in chemistry class and when they lent us their toboggans when the first big snow fell. They gave us books to read over the summer and hired us to watch their children, experience for which we’d be grateful when we birthed our own babies. They volunteered to fight local fires and taught us how to waltz. Their connections made life safe and prepared us for a world beyond the village.
Two decades after I moved away, I went back to see old friends. A man I didn’t know stopped me. “Aren’t you Jim Work’s daughter?” he asked. He seemed nonplussed when as I nodded, I began to cry. I was touched to my core that the connections of my youth had survived so many years. Connections link us to our past and point the way to our futures.
I stay in touch with my childhood playmates. We’re all about sixty now. One of us lives perched in the Rockies, a lover of aspens, fly-fishing and snow. Two remain rooted in Ohio, linked by work and family and autumns that shamelessly flaunt their colors across Ohio’s rolling hills. For over thirty years I’ve called the Lowcountry of South Carolina home, finding peace in the changing colors of salt marshes, touched by the warmth and humor of my neighbors. But as divided as my old friends are by time, life’s experiences and miles, when we face hard times or feel like we may be lost, we re-connect. We don’t run down the street to share our secrets anymore. We link by email, phone calls, or if we really long for the healing power of old ties, by airplanes. We have a craving to be in touch with people who have known our child selves. Connections affirm who we are.
Recently, a friend’s mother died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s leaving him both sad and exhausted. Two scant days after her funeral, he stood in church to express gratitude. “I can’t begin to tell you how much comfort you have shared with me,” he said. “I have a shelf filled with your cards. My in box is filled with your emails. You sat with me in church as we said goodbye to a woman you didn’t even know. You hugged me when I cried. You lightened my spirit.” Connections soften life’s blows.
After six decades, I know that life is sometimes hard, but whatever the journey, I know in my heart that it is always easier, and only survivable when we are blessed by connections with our fellow travelers.
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