Let’s connect! Looking forward to connecting! I’d like to connect with you!
Such messages are all over social media, and usually there the idea of “connecting” conveys a professional networking vibe. Connecting helps us get jobs, drives readers to our blogs. Some of us are very intentional about this kind of connecting. In today’s world, such connections are vital–putting yourself out there, getting seen.
Few of us put that kind of effort into making personal connections. Yet most of us do make them as we blunder along through life. Just a few years ago I was blessed by an experience that demonstrated to me the width and the depth of the connections my family and I had made in our various communities.
See, this happened:
Four years ago, when we were (blessedly) out of town, our house burned down and what we had left when the smoke had cleared and we had combed through the ashes fit neatly in a 5 x 5 storage room.
The strength and the complexity of the connections we had made throughout our lives were instantly evident. We were in Baltimore attending a funeral when the fire broke out and my husband’s oldest childhood friend was the first in a long line of people whose generosity and kindness not only upheld our spirits but afforded us the material support we needed.
In times of tragedy, most people expect (and can count on) help from family, and of course when we got home they all pitched in–one sister took in our whole family, while the other one adopted our dog for the duration, and that was just the beginning.
What was wonderful to see, though, were the fruits borne out of many years of unintentionally building connections just by living our lives. We received donations from our church, clothes and gift cards from both schools our kids attended and even from the school they used to attend, nightly meals from members of our son’s football team. In many cases we had never previously met or talked to the many people who were showering us with money and gift cards and household goods and clothes for our children. We were connected only by the communities–church and school–of which we were a part.
Connections from long ago still proved powerful, as we received gifts from old school friends, some of whom we had not seen in 20 years. Virtual connections became real connections as friends made years ago online sent boxes of clothing. And connections of connections chipped in as well–parishioners at my father’s church, readers of a blogging friend who hosted an online fundraiser, my sister’s dearest friends.
What I wrote in a thank you note at the time still holds true: We’ve all heard that during our trials we learn who our friends are. What we have learned is that we have many friends whom we never even knew about until this happened to us, and for that blessing we are grateful.
Our connections showered us with compassion when this terrible thing happened to our family. But not everyone has the connections we have. I recently learned of an acquaintance who lost his home to fire a year or so ago. He told me that only the Red Cross came to his family’s aid. Whenever I hear of victims of house fires in need, I send a donation if I can. Because I share that connection with them.
The real challenge is to show compassion–to feel compassion–for those with whom we have no obvious connection at all. I remember as a child asking how exactly we are supposed to Love One Another like Jesus said. How are we supposed to love people we don’t even know? I do understand it now, but I can see that for many people it is all too easy to disavow those to whom they are not connected, to mark them as other and different and unworthy of compassion.
How easy to forget that we are all connected–that, as the Catholic Bishops of Appalachia wrote–we are all at home in the web of life. That we are all brothers, children of one Father.
This post is part of the monthly #1000Speak linkup. You can read the other posts here.