Only connect. — E. M. Forster
I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve spent the last two weekends in Belfast with friends and London with family, soaking up the differences (and similarities) in Ireland and England.
Increasingly, I’m coming to the conclusion that the world, in actuality, is very small.
Hear me out: Sometimes, I come to the depressing conclusion that human beings have and always will be unable to see each other eye to eye and hold hands in fellowship, especially in light of this toxic political and cultural climate. I mean, when women are being called called prostitutes in front of an audience of millions, when black teenagers are being shot in the streets for looking “suspicious”, and when children die when they’re supposed to be safe at school and home, how can I believe that humanity is worth it?
What changed my mind is not earth-shattering, and it was only changed in a small way. But, isn’t it the small steps that get you forward?
It’s the connections, each and every one, that I make with other people.
I’m not just talking about the deep, powerful relationships I forge between myself and my friends, my family, although nourishing these connections is vital. My visits to London and Belfast reaffirmed how necessary it is for me to continue cultivating the relationships I already have.
But, I’m also talking about the short, seemingly small moments you can have with total strangers.
Case in point: In Belfast, I kept on running into people with whom I discovered the most random connections.
In a pub, my friend (and fellow Scottie) Caitlin and I ran into an Irish couple whose daughter had studied at Agnes Scott for a year. The couple and we both got excited, chatty; the husband bought me a Guinness and Caitlin a lager.
“She said she lived in Rebekah,” said the wife, cellphone jammed to her ear, the daughter in question at the end of the line.
“We did, too!” said Caitlin, as, I’m sure, visions of the red-brick visage of Rebekah Scott Hall floated into all our heads.
In a charity bookstore, we met a woman from Atlanta who was teaching creative writing at Queen’s University.
“I had friends at Agnes Scott!” she exclaimed. We spent the next ten minutes talking over the heads of customers, about Ireland and Scotland (she had studied in Edinburgh for a semester, just an hour from Glasgow) and creative writing, coincidentally, Caitlin’s and my major.
In a bus station, early in the morning, I met an Australian woman who was armed with a large suitcase and the aura of one who travels often.
“Where in Australia?” I asked casually.
“Tasmania,” she answered.
“I have a friend who’s from Tasmania,” I said, thinking of my flatmate’s boyfriend, Sean, who was from a small town called Hobart.
“Hobart,” I said.
Of course, she was also from Hobart, a fact which shocked Sean when I told him much later, since Tasmania is small enough that he runs into few Tasmanians, let alone Hobartians, in the wider world.
These connections may seem flimsy, easily blown away by the winds of time and chance. They are; again, they are not earth-shattering. I do not find my entire worldview shifting with the revelation that the nice cashier in the Irish bookstore is also an Atlantan.
But, the steady accumulation of these fragile meetings does lead me to wonder: If it’s such a big, big world (which it is), how can I keep finding things in common, these connections, with these strangers I chat up casually?
The Australian woman in the bus station offered an observation while we were discussing our travels, our different places of origin: We, human beings, are the same underneath it all.
At the time, I, armed with years of reading and classes in cultural studies, felt my mind rear up. Of course we’re not the same. It’s a big, big world. Hell, we wouldn’t be shouting at each other all the time if we weren’t different.
But here, now, I realize that we are both right. Yes, it’s a big, big world, and people are different. To refuse to acknowledge differences in experience, in culture, in creed, in climate, in language is to erase what make people individuals.
But, to also refuse to acknowledge that we all are born, that we all die, that we all love, hate, eat, sleep, laugh, and cry, is to erase what make people human.
It’s the smallest of connections that we can make with strangers, with people who are superficially so different from us, that remind us of that simple fact.