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A flicked switch can scatter us forever
Last week I published Samson, in a form I’ll call a “poessay:” a combination of a poem and essay. I’m not the first to use that term, though most poessays are “essays in the form of a poem,” rather than an essay that enfolds a poem within it.
Today, another poessay. Next week, who knows?
Thanks for being here. xox M
A few days ago at a potluck gathering in Olympia, WA, I met a friend of a friend. We sat on the front stoop of an ocher-colored house and chatted in the lengthening shade of a fruiting fig tree.
Toward the end of the far-ranging conversation, he shared with me his conviction that we are in for some hard times, much harder than what we’re experiencing now. I hear that from a lot of people. Since you probably hear it, too, I won’t list the cavalcade of potential horrors that allegedly await.
Not that I disagree with his assessment; in fact, I believe that much of the prophesied woe will come to pass. In what forms, I can’t possibly know. What I do know, deep in my ancient instinctive heart, is that the answer lies in community.
But not in just any kind.
Today is my last day in an AirBnb near Mt. Hood in Oregon, more than 3000 miles from my home in Florida. I’m here because in 2021, while I was waiting to talk on the phone to a dear friend, I took a walk.
I was listening to something on YouTube — probably an interview on relationships, if memory serves — and when it ended, YouTube decided to spool up a TedTalk by Barbara Sher called “Isolation is the dream-killer, not your attitude.”
I listened to the whole thing. It made so much sense: our dreams are fulfilled in community, through our connections with one another. When my friend called, I launched into a description of what I’d just heard. She didn’t hesitate for a second. “Yes. Let’s do it.”
Within a week, we had created a group we called the Dream Team, made up of six women: two of her friends plus two of mine. We met once per week for three months on Zoom, sharing our practical life-dreams and actively offering whatever we could to help each one of us attain her goal.
At the end, we didn’t want it to end, so we decided to continue once per month, with no end date.
For over two years, we’ve met regularly online. Until this weekend. Today’s our last day together before we scatter back to our respective corners of the country.
I’ve written in the past about separation, including an essay about one definition of sin as “anything that separates.” I don’t cogitate on the concept of “sin” too often, because it doesn’t really fit into the spiritual landscape I inhabit most of the time. But lately I’ve found it useful as I struggle with the role of technology in my life.
Digital “connection” is real. We all know that communicating with people in far-flung places can create belonging. We’ve all felt it.
What put me on a plane to the Pacific Northwest is the deep connection I created with these five women, online. What helped heal my marriage was working with an outstanding counselor, online. And what grounds me in reality within a world that seems increasingly insane is the community I’ve found online, on Substack.
All good. I’m sure you have many wonderful examples of your own.
But what is the flipside? Who also benefits from this variety of connecting? And could it actually be serving to push us farther apart?
These questions led me to this:
So easy to connect:
just sit here,
and peck at keys.
Magical unseen string unspools
to befriend half the world,
knotting me and the like-minded
into an endless game
of tin can telephone, played from afar.
Digital communities, we are told.
Evolution, we are sold.
Is that what it means to evolve?
to a chamber, webbed
with the friendliest echoes?
Better than nothing!
we say brightly, myself included.
I call this connection
a lifeline, and mean it. But
something unnamed inside me
is blooming into
the fallow nothingness
of my self-imposed isolation,
rising up against the virtual,
casting me out:
out of this black mirror,
out of the machine,
out of my nest,
across our street,
over your threshold
and into a kitchen
that smells like
basil, like simmering onions,
like nothing I ever dreamt of, where
I sit at your table,
your teacup warming my palm.
I play peek-a-boo
with your infant daughter,
whose laugh unlocks the truth:
we’ve never been all that different.
Nothing is better
than this coming together,
you and I,
from anywhere, but especially
from across that wide,
it’s better to flock together first,
we birds, and then someday later
find at least
one common feather.
Because that’s the real game, isn’t it,
the one we all came here to play;
I’ll call it
until you and I think of
so easy to connect,
can also be severed
with the same ease;
yes, a flicked switch
can scatter us forever,
runs both ways.
We can simply
snip the strings ourselves,
trust-fall into the arms of that
burgeoning power inside—
the one I now know is freedom—
and show up
on each other’s doorsteps,
I love to connect. My mother once told me, “friendship with you is a disease.” I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that statement, because it sure as hell didn’t sound like a compliment.
But now I see it as one. I proudly wear a t-shirt designed by a friend I met through FaceBook Marketplace which says,
of love, light,
truth and gratitude.
We are all hardwired to connect, much as we’ve been told the opposite. It’s what allows us to thrive as individuals and as a society. Gabor Maté, in his most recent book The Myth of Normal, says this:
“No hominim species could have survived long enough to evolve had its members seen themselves as atomized individuals, pitted by Nature against their fellow beings.”
I have more to say about how that hardwiring has been systematically and intentionally subverted to keep the masses in line… but I’ll save that for a subsequent offering.
For now, I’ll just say that I cherish all the connections I’ve made in my life, of any sort, virtual or otherwise. I’m sure you do, too.
AND, unless we create real-life, in-person connections, we open ourselves to further division and manipulation. We’ve all heard the aphorisms, “A house divided cannot stand,” or “Divide and conquer.”
Cliches like that are cliches because they’ve been proven over and over to be true.
We may think we’re creating community by connecting with “our tribe” online, but if that’s all we’re doing in the way of friendship-forging, we may find ourselves very alone if the lights go out.
I know it’s harder to find community in the real world; I’ve noticed my own reticence. It’s a risk. It takes effort. I find I’m having to accept parts of people that I disagree with. But so are they. And isn’t that what “love your neighbor” probably really means?
The potluck guy I chatted with in Olympia described himself as a former life-long socialist who had only liberal, left-leaning, progressive friends until 2020. “Now,” he said, “I don’t even know what to call myself. But almost all of my friends now are Republicans, people I thought were idiots. It’s crazy.”
He smiled, shook his head in what could have been disbelief or gratitude, or both, and said, “They really welcomed me. They didn’t judge. They were so kind.”
I’ve had a similar experience. It was humbling.
I believe that we — every single one of us — is being called to evolve. We’re being pushed out of our comfort zones, challenged to be more honest, more humble, more empathic. To admit our mistakes. To open our hearts to “idiots.”
We must come together, literally. As Maté has expressed, community has always been essential to our survival, but never more so than now. Humanity desperately needs its own in-person Dream Team, an unstoppable force of free mortal beings united through their divinity, and nothing else.
And the first step is to unplug ourselves, cross the street, and introduce ourselves. The threshold awaits.