Monday, 20 January 2014

Only Connect

This morning, on the train, I made accidental eye contact with a stranger. He was a young man, probably a student, wearing a faded band tee shirt with a tartan flannel shirt over it. His eyes protruded and he had a long face with curly hair that stood tall on top of his head. He glanced at me at the same moment that I glanced at him and our eyes met. I smiled at him, and, after a moment of hesitation, he smiled back. A minute or so later, our eyes met again and we shared another smile. When he left the train, he smiled at me again. It was a rare but lovely moment of connection with a stranger. There were no demands, just a moment of shared humanity in the freezing train.

I asked a particularly flirtatious friend of mine, LadyV, does she flirt with everyone? She considered for a moment, then said, no, not everyone. A lot of people, though. It's not about sex, though, she said. It's about human connection. It's about forging links with people.

In about my third year of undergrad, I read a series of novels for classes about human connection. The one that sticks in my mind is Howards End. I think sometimes about Forster, about how his novels explore the barriers between people that lead us to miss each other. A Passage to India is about people connecting despite these barriers. He was not, I think, a happy man, but he was a great writer.

Waiting in the rain for the tram on Thursday, I moved to make room for a young woman to shelter at the tram stop. I caught her eye and smiled, glancing up at the sky to let her know why I had moved. She thanked me, asked my name, offered hers in return. She was from Albania, she told me, and asked had I heard of it. Mediterranean, I guessed, and she nodded. Good food, I told her, and she admitted that she's a terrible cook, though she enjoys needlework. She tried to guess my accent, declaring that I was Italian and then American before she gave up. I have no explanation for my higgledy-piggledy accent, but told her that I'm English, born to English parents. She said that she can't get used to the way that people here don't strike up conversations with people on the street the way they do in Albania. I asked what she does, and she told me she works for her church, showed me a badge declaring her a member of the LDS church. She asked what I do and I told her I teach literature. The tram arrived, and she smiled at me. 'God bless you,' I told her, and she said, 'the same to you.'

I'm recently returned from a visit to my partner, who lives in Scotland. We're lucky in that we have nightly phone calls and regular video chatting to sustain us, and we try to spend a weekend together each month. I can't imagine trying to keep up our connection through weekly letters and nothing else. We sometimes spend all evening skyping, carrying our laptops into our respective kitchens to cook together and eating together at our respective tables. It's almost like living together, except that the physical affection on which we both thrive is missing. When we're together in the flesh, we're almost always connected physically, holding hands or tucked in to each other's shoulders. Waiting at a red light, he briefly rests his hand over mine on the gear lever. These moments of connection are important.

The internet has made the world so much smaller. We can connect with people over vast distances and strike up friendships that are rendered no less real for the screen names and distance between us. These networks of friends make us more human, I think. I have friends on every continent except Antarctica. I think that's pretty cool. I have blog readers all over the world.

Wherever you are, I hope you have a lovely day. I hope you have some human connections in it. I hope the same sun shines on you as is shining on me just now.

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