Have you ever been startled into realizing just how important connections are? If you think about it, there is virtually no aspect of our lives that isn’t touched by the power of connection, or sometimes the loss of it. The realization can come on fast and can show up in some unlikely places.
Any young person with their nose stuck in a cell phone is actually devoting a ton of time to maintaining and expanding their circle of connections, even though they are doing it in a solitary fashion. We can grouse about how much they’re missing, but these high-tech connections may be as valuable as the “low-tech” activities – like reading, talking to friends, even connecting with a spiritual community – we value.
How we connect is far less important than realizing how meaningful connections are.
As I’ve aged, the significance of what I will relinquish after leaving the physical world has been on my mind more and more. Some of what I’ve thought about are material things: my written words, endowments, and my stuff. But lately a new thought has been creeping into my spirit about something far more valuable than any of my stuff: the idea that connections aren’t just experiences; connections are our LEGACIES. Connections we establish during our lives can influence families and communities, and these influences may live on long after we’re out of the physical realm.
The three primary things that connect us are family, friends, and shared experiences. These can be good connections or bad connections. They can be joyous, sorrowful, or stressful. They can be thrust upon us like family that we don’t get to choose or they can be connections we seek out, like taking a class where our love for art, cooking, gardening or some other subject puts us in the company of “fellow travelers.” If we attend the same spiritual home or church, share an occupation, or have a close sibling, we’re part of a group and therefore connected by what we have in common.
Connecting with others
Aren’t some of the most powerful experiences in your life those you shared with others? Knowing you’ve done well is enhanced by sharing your experience with someone who has perhaps gone before you.
As humans, our connections can represent the difference between a healthy outlook based on constructive emotional development and being vulnerable to pessimism and painful isolation. Our connections with others add support and perspective. Sometimes connection looks and feels like love. Only the test of time will tell if a connection is truly the deeper feeling of love. Connections can come on fast and end just as quickly, sometimes catching us by surprise. Either way, we are different than we were before.
Connecting to yourself
As we age, we bear witness to the loss of parents, spouses, friends, jobs, and even homes. That’s why making sure we’re connected with ourselves is one of the most important connections of all.
But what does that mean?
It’s almost easier to define by looking at the opposite end of the spectrum. You’re not connecting with yourself when you move through your day in a fog, without the full awareness of what you’re doing; you’re distracted, feel out of touch with reality, like something is just missing. And maybe it is.
The thing to remember is that connecting with yourself can come in both big and small ways. Thinking back on an experience or a relationship may create an “Ah-ha!” moment where some larger meaning is revealed for the first time. But connection can also come from just walking as mindfully — literally and figuratively — through the minutes, hours and days of our lives. What’s critical is to have the same enthusiasm for connecting with ourselves as we have in being connected to someone or something, and to never limit our imagination as to what form self-connection can take.
Because I’ve never had children, I’ve developed strong connections with the women in my life. Many of these connections have turned into lasting friendships that have shaped my experience profoundly. In addition to these individual connections, I am thankful for the many group connections that have been such a large and loving presence. These range from connections with the people in my spiritual home to those with whom I share hobbies, books, and the love of our pets.
You can certainly move through your life with a minimum number of connections. As seniors, however, this can be especially unhealthy. If anything, getting older should precipitate more and stronger connections. We can become more dependent on family, friends, and strangers, and durable connections will make those interactions more joyful for everyone involved.
I truly believe the connection of elders within our community provides the backbone of positive growth for the future. Who better to share with and learn from than those who’ve been in trenches? We can provide some of the best connections around!
Perhaps now that I’m getting older, I can see connections as the most powerful and meaningful influences in my life. I’m beginning to see that, rather than tangible stuff, what I leave behind in the form of strong and meaningful connections may serve a wider arc of community. And I know I’m not alone.
The more we think about our lives, the more we’re likely to uncover about our connections.
Is there a time that you’ve been surprised by the power of connection? Don’t be afraid to share your comments!
Contact me at Antonia@TheJoyofAgingGratefully.com