I am privileged to feel a connection with several good-hearted people in my city. I’ve worked with some of them in past career stops. I’m partnering with some of them on community projects now. Some of them go to my church. Some I’ve just met through networking.
They are lovely, caring people. And I’m noticing a lot of heavy-heartedness. It’s in me, too.
On Sunday morning, one of the kindest and gentlest men I’ve ever known stopped to talk with me in the parking lot at my church. He observed that I seemed deep in thought, and I confessed I’d gotten sucked into the vortex of rumination just by noticing a political bumper sticker. He nodded ruefully and said, “I can’t believe how much hate I’ve been seeing in myself. I watch the news and I wind up shouting, pointing my finger at the TV set like I’m pointing a gun at it.” The weariness in his eyes said This is not who I want to be.
So I’ve started asking people: “How are you coping? What are you doing for yourself?” Their first response is nearly always “nothing!” or “not enough!”, but after a few minutes they begin to tell me about little things they do that are ways of caring, gently, for themselves. Doing crafts. Playing with the dog. Putting family above everything else. Meditating. Practicing gratitude. Journaling. Connecting with old friends. Taking baths. Exercising.
I’ve been reading and re-reading Brené Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness. One of her chapters is titled, “Hold hands. With strangers.” Boy, that sounds touchy-feely, doesn’t it? But Brené’s work is always more challenging and promising than it might seem up front.
“Hold Hands. With Strangers.” is all about how much we all require visceral experiences of human connectedness. The stories she tells and the analysis she offers put flesh and bone on her definition of spirituality:
“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.” – Brené Brown
In “Hold Hands. With Strangers.” she talks about how her research revealed that people who experience a sense of true belonging habitually show up to collective experiences of joy and pain. Concerts. Theater. Sports. Funerals. I’ve read this chapter a few times now and each time I have wept my way through it because I’ve had these experiences, and I treasure them. (I’d love to read your stories in the comments to this post.) She shares several of her own stories of going to football games with friends, country music concerts with family, movies, and then funerals, natural disasters, and mass shootings.
Being alone in the midst of a widely reported trauma, watching endless hours of twenty-four-hour news or reading countless articles on the Internet, is the quickest way for anxiety and fear to tiptoe into your heart and plant their roots of secondary trauma. That day after the mass killing, I chose to cry with my friends, then I headed to church to cry with strangers.
Brown, Brené. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (p. 127). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
I’ve heard exhaustion and malaise in those I’ve connected with over the last few weeks. In many ways, this experience of being alone in the midst of widely reported trauma has become our new normal.
We need to see each other in person and cry together. And we need experiences of joy. Together. Dr. Brown writes further:
…these examples of collective joy and pain are sacred experiences. They are so deeply human that they cut through our differences and tap into our hardwired nature. These experiences tell us what is true and possible about the human spirit. We need these moments with strangers as reminders that despite how much we might dislike someone on Facebook or even in person, we are still inextricably connected. And it doesn’t have to be a big moment with thousands of strangers. We can be reminded of our inextricable connection after talking with a seatmate on a two-hour flight.
Brown, Brené. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (p. 128). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
How are you holding up? How are you taking care of yourself?
Whatever your answer is, take time to reach out to someone else in your real, flesh-and-blood life. Ask them the question. Ask them for support. Look for opportunities to be together and experience pain and joy together. And look beyond — WAY beyond the differences in your opinions. We need to remind ourselves of how much we have in common that is simply human. We all suffer. We all want to live good lives. The fact that we have different strategies for arranging those lives distracts us from our inextricable human connections.
Go hold somebody’s hand.