Finding comfort in our connections with others
It is no brilliant revelation that these are very difficult times. All we have to do is open our eyes to the news; catastrophe can feel as if it’s closing in from all directions. There are the most immediate threats: war, an attack on our basic rights, a determined attempt to undercut the stability of our democratic institutions, and a deadly pandemic, to name just a few. And then there are the chronic conditions: racial injustice, income inequality, misogyny and bigotry, the escalating climate crisis, and on and on.
At Steady we try to give voice to these topics and to provide a space for reflection and engagement with others. News is our lifeblood and has long been my livelihood. But it can be wearying. Fear and worry are always present, as are the other particular and unrelenting anxieties of our times. Yet we know that it is impossible to carry these burdens alone. Fighting back and finding solutions — and sanity — requires a community response we can use to gather strength and encouragement.
I like to think of Steady as an impractically large virtual dinner table where we can sit and talk with friends and family. Our conversations can ebb and flow across a variety of subjects. We can agree, and agree to disagree, but hopefully all with respect and fair-mindedness. Most importantly, we gain support from our camaraderie. We don’t leave the news behind, but we process it together.
Our effort here today is in that spirit. Whereas oftentimes our goal is to put a topic into context and perspective to elicit discourse, this is the reverse. Here our hope is to encourage a web of human connection. The topics of discourse that follow are less of concern than the “hellos” that begin the dialogue.
The pandemic has exacerbated our sense of isolation. The daily human interactions that make life more fulfilling, comforting, and understandable have diminished and been put under great strain. Even as we gather more again in person, we do so under the threat of a pandemic that isn’t over. And we are still confronting the untold damage caused by the disruption, a damage that manifests itself in countless ways that may not be fully visible even to those of us who are going through it, which I would contend is everyone to some extent.
It would be one thing if the rest of the world were going well. But the public health risks are matched by so many other justified fears and worries. And then there are the typical life challenges: aging, illness, financial worries, personal and professional disappointments.
Our message today is a simple one, but one we feel is of urgent importance: Please reach out to friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances. Make a call. Send a text or an email. Even write a letter and put a stamp on it. Somehow, some way, reach out and touch someone.
There is no panacea for all that ails us. But there can be support. And it can make a big difference. Whether you are in need of help or can offer it — and most people I have found are a combination of the two — we can all benefit from more regular discourse with others. I find that there can often be inertia over what we should say, how we talk to someone we haven’t spoken to for a while, or what the right words are for someone who is suffering. But more often than not, those worries dissipate in the first moments of reconnection. I have also found that what you say often matters less than the act of saying something. Even short conversations or notes can mean a world of difference. Another lesson I have learned, sometimes the hard way, is that calls not made are usually regretted more than the ones that are.
That old friend you know is going through some health issues? Check in on them. That grandchild you haven’t talked to in a while? Drop them a line. That colleague who seems to be quieter than usual in Zoom meetings? Ask how they are doing.
I am old enough to remember a time when placing a long-distance call required checking your bank book to make sure you could afford it. Coordinating schedules to reach people was difficult. Now we have technology that allows us to beam our faces to people anywhere in the world at any time. There is no shortage of methods for instant communication. We can send photos and videos with abandon. This means we can see and hear people with ease, speed, and virtually no expense. It’s unprecedented in human history.
But these same forces of easy transportation and communication have also scattered us. Another casualty, I fear, is the art of letter writing. Yes, there is excitement in being able to see and hear people in real time. But there is also something about reading words carefully chosen and written out in a familiar hand. Thoughts transmitted in this form carry their own power, which is one of the reasons I love this Steady platform so much. I think of these missives less as essays or columns and more as letters to all of you.
In doing so, I find great joy in a sense of frequent communication. It isn’t only the people we don’t talk to often to whom we should reach out, but also the ones we talk to with great regularity. They tend to be the ones dearest to us.
In writing this, I am thinking of one of my oldest friends (both in age and tenure). He lives back in New York, and I have now relocated to Texas. Over the many decades, we have fallen into a rhythm that makes sense only to us. You would probably need a decoder ring to understand our conversations if you listened in on them. Sometimes when we talk, we really have nothing to say. But just hearing that familiar voice on the other end of the line is like a blanket of comfort.
We talk about serious issues, but we also talk about things like the New York Giants football team (which I recognize is a deadly serious topic for many). He’s been a lifelong fan, and I root for them as well. We don’t care as much as we used to; the futility of the team encourages that. But still we end up talking about it more than one might expect. In this familiar ongoing conversation, there is a pattern of discourse and expectation that is fortifying.
I imagine many of you have similar people in your lives. I also recognize that many of us have lost dear friends and loved ones who leave a deep void. That is why it is extra important if you know someone in this category to reach out to them. One of the joys of a long life is that you can still deepen new friendships and reinvigorate old ones.
What I hope for today is that in the comments section you might share your own experiences around this topic. It would also be fun if you have been inspired by what you have read here to reach out to someone, and if you feel comfortable sharing about the conversation, you do so as well.
Finally, thank you all for being at the other end of these letters. I love reading your responses back, and I also love it when you are inspired to share what we are trying to do here with others.