only connect

Two forces rule the universe: light and gravity…. What is the reason that as soon as one human being shows he needs another (no matter whether his need be slight or great) the latter draws back from him? Gravity.  (S. Weil)

I wasn’t drinking to forget
I was drinking to remember
how I once might have looked
through the eyes of a stranger
(Gravity by Freakwater)

I have a memory – a mother’s memory. My daughter is seven or eight years old. I’m beside her, sitting on the edge of her bed. She’s drawn me to her room with the sound of weeping, and now I am sitting there beside her, listening to her and sharing in her sorrow. Over the past months she has been slowly gravitating into a treacherous phase of her childhood: the sly and spiteful politics of girl-friendships.

Those first years of nursery and early primary school were full of simple, joyful engagements with other children, boys and girls all together – large merry romps of chasing and tig and jumping rope and pelting one another with raisins from their snack boxes. But over these past months, I have noticed that she speaks increasingly about spending her time among the girls. The girls stay in one side of the playground, the boys on the other. More than this: the girls are starting to peel off into smaller units of two and three, becoming inseparable, establishing their BFF (best friends forever!!!!) and creating impregnable fortresses of togetherness. She has several good friends and she loves them all, but she hasn’t got a BFF, and the playground politics are beginning to get to her. She feels left out, and unwanted – she is always the one tagging along, always the one seeking out the others. She blurts it out unhappily: “Why is it always me asking them?”

And my instant response rolls straight off my tongue

Get used to it.

where I catch it just in time and shut my lips, holding it in – literally holding it in – with a mental hand clamped over my mouth.

Good God, did I nearly just say that out loud? How fucked up can I be? I came this close to unleashing my twisted, cynical self onto this sweet, open-hearted little girl whose bewildered tears cry out the genuine grief of the human condition. Life is just so fucking unfair, and it hurts. It really hurts.

Well, shit. I’m a good enough mum, after all. I swallow those words and instead I stroke her hair, and sit close beside as the storm passes through her; it passes, and she is soothed.

Tony says it all, right here: “What I do want more than anything is to connect.”

We all do. In fact, that’s all we want to do, more than anything, throughout every moment of our lives. We want to connect with others. We want to belong. We want to be recognised, and valued. We want to be part of something greater than just ourselves, we want a taste of transcendence, and the only way we can taste it is to connect.

And we all feel the sting of disinterest, misunderstanding, outright rejection. We all feel the sting and we all deliver it too, even to people we like and even to people we love. Those missed connections, they’re like particles of dust that billow out from all our interactions. They’re the dust of matter that clumps together, forming shadows, blocking out the light, generating gravity.

I am reading a fantastic book right now: Individuals, Groups and Organisations Beneath the Surface by Lionel F. Stapley. He suggests that “the dominating feature of human psychology is the impulse to form relationships” (p14) and that “perhaps the most outstanding and the most continuous of human psychic needs is that for emotional response from other individuals.” (p.31)

What I like about his comments, and his analysis throughout the book, is his acknowledgment of the inseparable nature of thoughts and emotions, existing simultaneously within the physicality of our brains and our bodies, and beyond us, throughout all our relationships. Paying attention means aligning oneself fully within one’s humanness, in all these aspects. I like how Stapley coins it: “we may say that human being is an activity. It is not about the doing that a human does, it is about the doing that a human is.” (p9)

So I raise my glass of lemonade in a toast: to my friends, to my never-quite-made-it-to-friends, and to friends-unknown – and to enemies too if I’ve got them (?!)

I raise my glass to you all in the spirit of human friendship and with the wise words of E.M. Forster: “Only connect!”