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July 25, 2007

Connections: We all have them

Patricia A. Kelly

As defined in the Random House College Dictionary, connection implies link, association or relationship. It could mean a circle of friends or associates, or a member of such, a relative, or a group of persons connected by a political or religious tie. It could mean a transfer from one airplane to another. It could mean an illegal drug dealer!

Speaking of connection in terms of personal relationships, it means a lot. It means a bond, a sense of belonging, a sense of personal identification with one's connecting partner, real attachment and genuine emotion.

We belong to many groups that provide connection. We have families, loved ones, churches, clubs, even pets. These all enhance our lives in many, many ways.

Connections are good, life-saving and enhancing. They're what make one throw oneself over a child's body when a bomb is exploding. They are what make a man walk into the delivery room during his child's birth. They make one go to work every morning. They make one's heart feel warn at a family reunion.

Connections enable us to learn how to do things without re-inventing. They make us safe, as we protect each other. They make us feel valuable, as we experience the love or friendship of others. They give us a sense of belonging.

Imagine a life completely without them. I read a book once, years ago, in which a man awoke one morning and found that every other human being had died. The story chronicled his effort to make a life completely alone, but, most of all, his effort to find another human being, and a mate. It was fascinating.

There are times in life when we avoid connection, often to protect ourselves from suffering.

The present controversy over the statue of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney in front of Frederick's City Hall is a reminder of how slave owners avoided recognizing the connection between themselves and their slaves.

Although there were obvious differences between European landowners and the losers of African wars who arrived here virtually naked and unable to communicate, the similarities, or connections, were much greater. Justice Taney, although writing for the Supreme Court majority, clearly emphasized differences and denied obvious similarities.

In a mortuary, people would also want to minimize connections. "Another day, another stiff.." It would be difficult to go to work every day and calmly eat your bologna sandwich at lunchtime, if you allowed yourself to fully experience the connection between you and the person whose blood you just drained and replaced with embalming fluid.

A hospital emergency department is very similar, I expect. Day after day, people present themselves with painful accidental injuries, and life-threatening illnesses, or even seeking more drugs to feed their addiction. The staff stands back from them and tells themselves that the patients are stupid, that they smoked too much, ate too much, didn't check their blood sugar enough, were non-compliant. They keep their distance. They don't want to be them.

My son sky dives. He frequently tells me, "Don't worry, Mom. I'm careful. I pack my own chute. I have an automatic reserve. I don't do stunts too close to the ground." All these stories relate to deaths he has seen or heard about. He doesn't want to connect with those victims.

I don't worry much, as I know I can't do anything to protect him, but I think to myself, "You'll still be dead if you fall out of the sky."

I think it would be a good thing if we made and strengthened more connections, as painful as they might be.

If we Caucasians imagined ourselves in the shoes of the black man who refuses to sign an organ donor card because he thinks someone might kill him for his body parts, we might understand his history, and his family lore regarding exploitation.

We might identify with Jews and their feelings about Israel after centuries of persecution throughout the world.

We might identify with the Islamic view that their lands have been stolen, and their values trampled by the Western world.

We might identify with the sick and addicted, and treat them with the respect they deserve as human beings, not as stupid or different from us.

We might admit that the guy who just cut us off on the highway is just like us, entitled to a mistake once in awhile.

How amazing would the world be then? How many little children would we allow to starve if they were ours?

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