The Human Need for Connections
By Don H. Staheli
With flowers in hand, we walk quietly through the small town cemetery, a little flock of reverent pilgrims come to decorate the graves of loved ones long gone but kept alive through faith and fond memories. Though we have come early, others have been here before us, and most of the stone-grey headstones are brightened with colorful memorials to cherished companionships and treasured heritage.
In such a place, we pick our way carefully, unable to completely put away the thought that somehow those who rest in peace are just a little disturbed by footfalls on the grass.
As we stand at great-grandmother’s grave, someone thinks to figure the levels of lineage represented here, and all are struck by the fact that combined above and below the ground are six generations. Represented by marker or lively presence is a pedigree that spans the age from settlers to space travelers, from bonnets to backwards baseball caps.
In coming to this hallowed ground, we think of those who may hardly have imagined us in our times; searching for the parts of them that still live in us, we feel connected. We are connected by means of genes and history and, in the graveyard near their hometown, even a physical proximity.
This feeling of connectedness, of belonging, seems to be the yearning of every human heart from the first beat to the last. From the moment the umbilical cord is severed and we are disconnected from our mother, we spend our entire lives trying to reconnect with people and enjoy again the sense of bonding that characterized that closest of all human relationships.
As death approaches, the worst fear may be that we will die alone, without the comfort of a loving escort to keep us feeling connected to humanity until the very end.
Even the hard-core loner wants on occasion to feel he belongs, or at least to be connected to a listening ear. Unfortunately, some have felt their only voice was a harmful act directed at those who might well have made the connection had they understood the need.
For those who lose all sense of affiliation, the very purpose of life may be lost in plain sight. Suicide becomes an act of emotional blindness, as its victims ignore the connecting ties that would keep them from falling if only they could see them.
We may not label ourselves as “joiners,” but each of us is such, in our effort to be connected. Children naturally cling to apron strings, and separation anxiety seems common to nearly all. Young people are drawn by an almost irresistible force to connect with those of their own age. Wearing the right clothes in the right place with the right people can become more important that doing the right thing.
It is ironic that those who want to be “different” often try to do so by acting just like others with similar tastes in style and thought. In such cases, loneliness is likely the only real link.
The most successful companies help their employees feel connected to the mission of the firm and refer to workers as “family” or at least “associates.” We wear logos and sport the right colors so we can feel like a part of the team. We research our family history and correct those who mispronounce our surname, because we want to feel rightly connected.
There is some danger in this drive for connectedness. Some of us will seek to belong in ways that can be destructive. Disconnected youth join gangs that give them a sense of acceptance and invulnerability. But condemnation by the criminal justice system often shatters the tenuous bonds of neighborhood gang membership, and puts the now highly vulnerable young inmate into a precarious circumstance that forces connection with those who would use and abuse as the price of protection.
People who lack the warmth of loving relationships may settle for a perverted form of intimacy through promiscuous behavior that yields only a momentary sense of being nurtured. Subsequent abandonment will only heighten the need to stay connected at any cost, even the sacrifice of self-respect.
Compare these faulty forms of pseudo-connectedness with the permanent bonds that not only last, but lift and strengthen. Usually, bonds of family are the strongest of all. Such connections pass to us the legacy of love we hold for those we may have never known, but who continue as an important part of who we are now.
Those through whom I have descended have passed to me a firmness of faith, a willingness to pioneer and persevere, and a desire to hand down to my descendents a history of integrity and service like the one I received. In order to insure future connections, my life must provide the fuel of love and learning needed to maintain the energy that will power the next generation. That generation will then have the ability to start the next, and so on, as the links are held intact.
Happily, in this process there is plenty of room for variety and individual application. We can revel in our uniqueness while still appreciating our heritage.
Even one generation gone seriously awry can create a momentum in inherited dysfunctional lifestyle that is changed only through uncommon self-awareness and determination on the part of some victim-heir. Greater courage hardly exists than that required of the one who recognizes family deficits and says, “We are not going to do it that way anymore.” Future generations will laud the course corrector.
Great is the power of connections. They draw the hunter “home from the hill” and sweeten the reunion with the prodigal. They give us a sense of safety even in unfamiliar settings. They forge friendships and create a sense of loyalty and devotion that can overcome our attachment to life itself.
An early morning visit to the cemetery can cause us to reach back, look inside, and stretch forward to strengthen connections that bind us together and guide our sense of who we are. With proper perspective, the inevitable imperfections we see in ourselves and others are more likely to be endearing than damaging.
Vital peace and comfort come in developing a sense of heritage, recognizing in oneself the traits of those who have run the race before, and feeling motivated to pass the best of them on to those who are just ready to grab the baton for their own laps around the course of life.
We all have a longing for belonging.
2007 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.