Original Lego creations by Clark Swaar, August 2011. Photos by Deborah Swaar, copyright 2018, all rights reserved. Used with permission
I’m a sports junkie. I’ll watch anything from baseball to NASCAR, but pro football is my sport of choice, and I bleed Chicago Bears orange and blue. So when my daughter and granddaughter and I went to Epcot on the opening Sunday of the NFL season - the day the Bears and their arch rivals the Green Bay Packers were on Sunday Night Football – Lisa and I wore our Bears jerseys. And every time we saw a fellow Bears fan, we verbally acknowledged each other with the standard George Wendt SNL salute: “Da Bears!”
We didn’t know any of the other people wearing Bears shirts and we’ll never see them again, but for one split second we were connected, and it brought smiles to our faces and the faces of all the people around us who saw and heard it. Outside of enjoying the moment I didn’t think much about it, but later that week I listened to the stunning sermon my friend Alissa preached at her Temple for Rosh Hashanah in which she shared the pain caused by one of her experiences of disconnection. I was reminded of how very important being in communion with one another is, and I wondered: Is that lack of connection a big part of what is ailing our world?
Isolation and disconnection result from a lot of different things. Sometimes we just get busy; distracted; our interests change and we drift apart. Sometimes there is a specific event that sets it in motion. I wasn’t prepared for any of the things that came with being a widow, but I found the isolation it brings – the feeling of being alone in a room full of people and that sense that you don’t “fit in” or truly “belong” anywhere anymore - exceptionally difficult to deal with.
Those feelings are part of our individual experience at times, but they also play out corporately in our communities, our nation, and our world. It seems we don’t talk to each other anymore. We talk at each other or past each other. The issues facing us feel so big and so complicated we hardly know where to start to try to engage; it’s easy to look at the way things are and think there’s not much we personally can do that would make a difference, and not much point in trying.
But… my experience at Epcot has me challenging that assumption.
If an innocuous spur-of-the-moment exchange between complete strangers at a theme park can bring laughter and smiles to the faces of everyone around (well, everyone but the Packers fans…), how much difference might it make if we were intentional about connecting at a deep and authentic level in every area of our lives, with every person we interact with?
That may sound too good to be true. Granted, none of us has a magic wand we can wave and fix things. We can’t change the world singlehandedly overnight, nor can we control the behavior of others. But we can start with ourselves and work intentionally to make connection a priority. I see it as a radical act of faith; a conscious decision to once again, in every instance, choose life.
Why not try?
First, connect with yourself. How are you? Who are you – beyond the external labels you wear? What are you thinking and feeling? Whatever is going on with you and inside of you - good, bad, or indifferent - name it and own it.
Next, connect with the Holy. Whatever you sense, feel, and notice in the process of connecting with yourself, intentionally offer it to the Holy in a way that is meaningful to you - be it prayer, journaling, confession, silence, meditation, worship, whatever - then listen to see what the Holy may be saying to you in response.
Reach out and connect with others. Write a note, send an email or text, make a phone call. Go out for coffee or lunch with a friend. Make time for conversation with your family. Talk to a therapist or a spiritual director. Let someone know in a specific way just how much they mean to you.
And when you get that phone call, email, note or text from someone reaching out to connect with you, be there. Be present. Listen. Offer love and light and compassion and care. Have their back, and make sure they know it.