After food and water (and, some would say, sex), connection may be the greatest thing we crave.
It’s why we become slaves to our cell phones, eyes glued to the tiny glowing screens, anxiously awaiting word from our contacts. It’s why we flock to social media. Our comments and Tweets, likes and shared memes are like drops of water, filling our empty cups. We need to reach out, to have meaningful conversations, to belong.
Connection used to be a simple thing. People rose in the morning and connected with family around the breakfast table. Or exchanged greetings at the local market, met with customers face-to-face, shared personal struggles and successes with neighbors, with coworkers, with fellow churchgoers. You were a member of the community – not a virtual one artificially contrived to group together the like-minded, but a real life community of people with real names (not user names) and real faces (not avatars).
Remember those days? Neither do I.
Imagine! Working side-by-side in a community garden while chatting with a human being instead of chiming in on a gardening forum online. Going for a jog or walk with a regular group instead of running alone, then posting your milestones on social media. Arguing with your local book club discussion group about the finer points of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World instead of tossing your personal review into the virtual soup.
Connection – real connection, is intimate. It has eye contact, and touch, and awkward pauses. It is the surprise of saying the same words at the same time (jinx!). It is the smell of someone else’s cologne, the sounds of sighs and tongue clicks, the inflection of voices.
It is ironic that I write of these things, since I am a writer and deeply introverted, and enjoy my time alone more often than time interacting with people. But once in a while, I actually crawl out of my cave to explore the human world. As I happened to be doing just the other day, during a somewhat routine 10-minute stop at the supermarket.
As I pushed my cart down Aisle 4, an elderly woman leaned forward on her walker and complimented my dress. “It is so pretty, and it goes so nicely with your skin. You have lovely skin,” she added. “You are so lucky that it doesn’t burn easily.”
I flashed the woman a grateful smile, and nearly continued on my way, but stopped. What if this woman was not just offering a compliment? What if she was reaching out, seeking connection? “That’s true,” I told her. “But the trade-off is that it is harder for me to absorb Vitamin D from the sun.”
“It is?” The woman’s eyes widened in surprise. “I never knew that.”
The conversation continued, revolving around the challenges and benefits of my toasty brown skin and her pale, Irish complexion. We spoke of race relations throughout the generations, and of travel, and of the ups and downs of relating to siblings. My 10-minute shopping trip stretched out an additional 30 minutes. But that didn’t matter at all. What mattered was the mini-miracle of two complete strangers having an actual, meaningful dialogue about life right there in the aisle of the supermarket. Connecting. Just as everyone used to do, I imagine, in the days before cell phones and the internet.
At last, we said our goodbyes, and thanked each other for the unexpected and strangely satisfying experience. Who knows if we will come across one another again? Maybe that is the sort of thing that only happens in small communities. But still, my cup was filled, and I imagine hers was, too. Now, of course, I ironically must relay the experience here in the virtual world. But perhaps in reading these words, you, too, may decide to pause when the opportunity arises, put your cell phone away, and connect with a real, live human being.