After a long stretch away from It’s a Small Word (sorry friends), I find there have been many much things to read and many much things to discuss. This was true two weeks ago when I began this post and it is even more true now. I’m going to start with a response to Mikel’s blog on “the universals” of humanity. There are a great many things that tie us together as people, a whole lot of universals that surpass all of the idiosyncrasies and specificities and cultural norms and mores that distinguish us from one another. Based my observations and interactions with a small portion of the world’s population, these are some of them.
Today is New Year’s Eve—an eve on which many people throughout the year will celebrate. They will gather in groups and get dressed up and go to parties and eat fancy hors d’oeures and drink too much champagne and stay up too late and at the stroke of midnight they will kiss and shout and shoot off fireworks and sing songs. They will do all of these things because they are human and because a new year is as good a reason as any to throw a party and to celebrate. Now, most of my New Year’s Eve’s have looked more like me in my pajamas eating cheese, watching the Twilight Zone and stepping outside to listen to the world sigh sometime around midnight, but that is beside the point. We as humans, regardless of race or religion or status or gender, need to celebrate. The world can be dark and cold and bitter and cruel, making it all the more necessary for us to hold to light like a candle in a black out, to celebrate that which is exceptional and unusual, to break up monotony and routine with moments of recognized grace. So we celebrate. We light lanterns and shoot firecrackers and sing songs and chant mantras. We say prayers and don costumes, and make the foods we never eat on normal days but that we always eat on the days that are anything but normal. We celebrate birth and death and beginnings and endings, weddings and bar mitzvahs, promotions and housewarmings. We throw parties to send people off and parties to welcome them home. We celebrate religious days and seasonal festivals, annual pilgrimage and days of independence. We celebrate because we can and we celebrate because we must. Because there is brokenness and anger and depression and despair. And wholeness and joy and forgiveness and hope.
I have never been a “baby person.” Never. I wrote an entire two-part blog post on this subject, (which you can find here). I have warmed to babies in the past two years (aunthood, nannying, and being an au pair helped with this), but I’m still somewhat selective with my infant affections. Still, babies in general are universally loved. We ooh and ahh over their tiny little hands, chubby little cheeks, heart-warming smiles and confounded expressions. We start speaking to them in “baby talk,” even those of us who swear we’ll never do that to our children. We shush them and bounce them and bundle them and kiss them. We cannot help ourselves. They are our progeny, our future, our DNA living on for another generation. Evolutionary theory tells us that this is the basis for most of instinctual actions—the survival of our genetic information. But I think that really, it’s a little more complex. We may innately need to see something survive, but I don’t think it’s our DNA. I think it’s hope. And children are the evidence that hope will live on.
Let is be said right now that sleep is vastly underrated in the United States. We live and strive and work for the day that we can rest and retire and vacation, but seriously, sleep is not valued enough. I speak for myself as well. I have the strongest affection for my bed, the place in which I most often find the sweet gift of sleep, but we do not spend nearly enough time together. A friend once told me, “People think that they know what they value most in life. Let them go without sleep for a week and they will almost certainly change their minds.” Regardless of how many hours your body needs to function well, I think that sleep (also rest in its various forms, but really, sleep) is something we universally love and need. We may not love that we need it, but such is the state of our bodies.
There are many individualists and independents and introverts out there (and I claim to be all of these things), but there is still something that we seem to universally appreciate about collaboration and teamwork. Whether it is the unexpected musical collaboration of Bing Crosby and David Bowie, the creative collaboration of Disney Animation and Pixar Studios, or a feel-good story about a brother and sister opening California’s first Italian-style wine shop, at our heart of hearts we love to see partnership. We love when enemies become friends, when old lovers get back together, when teammates secure a victory and friends come to one another’s rescue. We love Frodo and Sam, Batman and Robin, [insert culture-appropriate duo here]. We like to see and celebrate teamwork. We might be a little afraid of it, a little hesitant to trust anyone who has the power to deceive or destroy us, but at our heart of hearts, I believe that humans value collaboration. And this is one of the reasons why…
Now more than ever, I am absolutely convinced of the essential importance of human connection. Whether or not you believe that the story of humanity began with a lone guy hanging out in a garden, humans were not meant to be alone. I value my time to myself as much as the next introvert, but I also crave to be seen and heard and understood. It has been the driving force of my being longer than I have realized, and it is the subject around which nearly all of my writing revolves.
The past two weeks I have been away from California. I have been in Kansas City and Nebraska, where I have been eating pastries, exchanging presents, writing cards and drinking lots and lots of coffee. I have intended to read books and write blog posts, to make my way through that list of “Things I Want to Do Over Break,” but all of that has taken a back seat to what I have really been doing, which is connecting. I have connected with a dozen members of a disbanded small group in Kansas City and been vulnerable with a pastor who has listened to my heart cry many tears. I have stayed with a college friend turned adult friend turned life friend and her husband, visited my parents and siblings and a cousin all grown up. I’ve reconnected with a high school teacher and a middle school youth director, a girl I met in preschool and friends I didn’t know until college. And I have been surprised time and time again at how easily I’ve picked back up with these people I haven’t seen for months and years and even a decade. There are connections I wish I could make, connections to people with whom relationship has been broken. But connection is a two-way street.
Maybe that’s what makes it such a gift. Because it requires that both parties open their hearts and bestow forgiveness, that each of them rolls out the welcome mat and offers an embrace. We all welcome in our own ways and with our own customs and words and actions and expression, but the connection itself is universal. It transcends language and culture and all kinds of division. It is the reason we have this blog, the reason that we write, and the reason that we read.