At the age of nineteen, an aggressive form of double pneumonia nearly ended my life. Healthy and in great shape prior to the illness, I was used to running up to ten miles a day and had run several marathons. By the time of my admission to the hospital, walking across the room was a nearly impossible feat. I distinctly recall the trip to the emergency room that came just before admission. My body was deteriorating rapidly. Having never experienced anything even remotely like the sickness taking over my lungs and body, I vividly remember the first nurse with whom I came into contact.
Melba was probably in her mid-forties. She had a strong personality, an infectious laugh and was precisely the person a scared 19-year-old young man needed. This was especially true since I was far from home, in a new city, attending a new college and had not yet had time to form meaningful friendships. In other words, there was a possibility I could die and I was alone.
The first few days of my hospitalization were the worst. The best part of my day was Melba. For some reason, she adopted me. While I was there, Melba faithfully came to see me at the beginning and end of her shift. During the first few days, when I terribly weak she would whisper in my ear a prayer or she would just talk to me about what the medical personnel were doing to keep me alive. Sometimes, when I was completely out of it, she would simply rub my arm as if to let me know she was there; I wasn’t alone. As I grew stronger I would look forward to those visits.
It has been years since I was released from the hospital, 25 pounds lighter than when I entered just three weeks before. Decades have passed. Life has gone on. Even now my lungs are perhaps not what they would have been, had I not been so sick. Because of the illness, I developed a sensitivity to light that persists to this day. Colds go quickly into my lungs and I have had to learn to pay close attention to my body. In spite of these mostly minor irritations, I recall that brief period of my life with gratitude.
I will never forget Melba. Through her immense kindness and willingness to go way above anything required of her by her job, I gained an intimate understanding of how deeply we, as human beings, are wired for connection. In a new school and city and knowing almost no one, Melba was there for me. She let me know I mattered. She held my hand. She talked to me. She prayed for me. She saw me.
When we are in pain, whether physical or emotional, we are hard-wired to need connection with another human being. In your daily life, do you distract or connect?
We live in a culture that provides unprecedented distraction. Video games, Youtube, Netflix, Hulu, etc. We can sit in front of an entertainment buffet and stuff ourselves. Does it actually work? Does this feast meet our nutritional (relational) needs? I think most of us would quickly say no. But does answering no change our behavior?
Here is an interesting question: What would happen if we started to replace distraction with connection?
What if rather than binge watching Netflix you hand wrote five notes to people in your life thanking them for something specific?
What if you gave a hug to the most important people in your life and told them how much you appreciate them?
What would happen if you turned your phone off when you walked in the house and when each person talked to you, you truly listened?
These would be simple steps that might start to move each of us in a new direction towards what we truly need rather than the cotton candy diet we often continuously eat, yet never fills us.
In the coming weeks I will be posting more on this important topic of connection. Until next time . . . let me leave you with an easy question. When you wake up tomorrow what are three things you could do to increase the connection in your life? Okay. One more question . . . if you did just three things, how do you think you will feel at the end of tomorrow vs. today?