Recently I was at my cousin’s house for a visit. He’d been doing a fantastic job of restoring our grandparent’s home and he invited me over. I nearly declined because I was tired from work and just wanted to go home. But something told me to stop by anyway, and I’m glad I did. Once I was there, it was like it always is, us laughing and reminiscing about growing up together, even talking about and how the telephone number at our grandparents’ house has never changed from generation to generation. You could always get in touch with anyone in our family if you called grandad’s house because that number never changed.
Just then the phone rang. It was a call from his brother, and it was one of those moments that I knew something was wrong. The smile from the previous moment left his face, the tone in his voice changed, and his body language became somber. When he hung up from the call, he shared that one of our cousins had just suffered a heart attack and stroke and was not expected to make it. We continued to reminisce about family and growing up together, but through a different lens, thinking about how we hadn’t kept in touch as much as we should, letting the demands of life drift us apart.
As I drove home, heart heavy, I thought about a recent article I read about staying connected. Fellow CHHSM staff member the Rev. Dr. Elyse Berry had just posted a beautiful article for Mother’s Day titled “Stay Connected.” In the article, she talked about how her daughter told her that God made the world to stay connected. Reflecting on the words of this little one, I thought to myself, “If God’s design is for us to stay connected, how is it so many things seem to keep us apart?” And not just the usual suspects of work and immediate family commitments that can keep us from reaching out to distant friends and family — I thought about the constructs of our society like race, class, religion, sexuality, political affiliation, and so on that drive us apart from one another. In connection, we learn to see a oneness that embraces all our differences because we can see ourselves in each other, we see our connected humanity. However, without connection it is too easy to fall into the trap of othering, an “us versus them” mentality that seeks to remove humanity from those seen as “others.” I wondered if this othering explains how there have been at least 246 mass shootings in America so far in 2022, or the rise in hate crimes so far this year.
As CHHSM continues to embrace the journey to live our mission to create a just, caring and compassionate world, I am reminded how integral connection is to this mission, and the different ways it shows up in our work. Later this month, a new Nollau class will meet each other for the first time at its first Nollau retreat, and a strong part of the agenda is centered on connection. Led by Dr. Berry and supported by CHHSM staff, 20 leaders from different geographies, industries, and backgrounds will gather as individuals but leave as a cohesive cohort ready to embark on a nine-month journey of both individual and collective learning, growth and discovery. They have chosen to learn, share, and grow with people they don’t know, trusting in the humanity that binds us. The road will not always be easy, but perhaps the commitment to move forward together is a first step on the path towards healing.
Perhaps we all need to find purposeful connections with people who may not look like us or share our background, learning from each other if only to expand our own humanity, and in so doing push back against the forces of othering that seek to divide. The passing of my cousin reminded me that we don’t know how much time we have to reach out to each other, to connect with longtime friends and make new acquaintances, to reclaim our humanity and fight for a kinder and more just world.
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