Connection! (aka: Unexpected Encounter on Aisle 4)


human connection contact


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.

supermarket aisle shopping cartAs 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.



6 responses to “Connection! (aka: Unexpected Encounter on Aisle 4)

  1. So true. Being an introvert myself, I don’t typically go out of my way to talk to people. Especially people I don’t even know.

    But every once in a while, I somehow end up having a chance conversation with someone seemingly random, only to find out we have something in common. It’s amazing, like I was meant to have an interaction with that person, if only once and never again.

  2. Your description of the intimacy of in-person connections brings them to life. They are so much more than just words. Every sense can be involved in a way that can’t be duplicated even by a hand written love letter. And emojis will never replace inflection.

    I do remember those days before computers and cellphones, and although as a definitive INFJ, I find interactions easier to pursue and maintain within today’s digital anonymity, I was compelled by the world and a family of two parents and 5 daughters to participate. That didn’t make it any easier, just unavoidable.

    Even so, I have experienced many of those random conversations with total strangers, and like you both, found them satisfying and pleasant. I wonder if that might be the reason we take part in them. We know they won’t last long, we will probably never see the other person again, and we do really need some minimum level of human interaction.

    So when someone speaks to me out of the blue, I first entertain the possibility they’re reaching out. Ockham’s Razor, right? And that reaching out, which I generally find pretty difficult to do, deserves a kind response. Like I would want. Maybe that’s all that’s required of us: respond kindly.

    But here’s another plus for digital conversations: The two of you had this exchange four days ago. Now my response to what I can see passed between you will let at least The Girl From Jupiter (is it Tiare?) know that there’s another comment. She’ll probably click over to take a look and Boom! further conversation. Here it waits for us, and reminds us of what’s already been said. It’s like safe, convenient time travel.

    I’m looking forward to talking with you across time and space. It’s not as personal as across a cafe table over coffee, but it’s far better than no connection at all.

  3. Pingback: Saturday 7 – Space, Time, and Raspberries

  4. Exactly. There is no replacement for the way the senses engage during actual, real-life interactions with people. The way their cologne fills your nostrils. The way the sound of their voice or a simple gesture of the hand may trigger a memory of another time, another conversation. The way people look and sound when they burst into laughter, and how it fuels our own. These details are lost, sadly, in the virtual interactions we’ve come to rely on.

    However, I must agree that these virtual connections are not without merit. If you could see me when I read a genuine comment, such as yours, then you would see a smile stretch across my face and linger for a while. You would see my eyes light up in surprise and pleasure at the opportunity to reach back across the universe and connect with another human being, like you. Though it is slower, and perhaps lacking in some ways, I suppose it is no more so than during the days when friends conversed by long hand-written letter. So yes, even this is valuable communication, and far better than none at all. As for that café, well, please enjoy a cup of coffee on me. 😉

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