In the dark days of winter, I admit there are occasions when curling up like a sow bug to stare at my navel seems to be the best response to the world. For two days, for example, my computer was on the fritz. When it eventually beamed back at me with renewed life, the news headlines screamed that Donald Trump has ordered the assassination of a top Iranian leader. Our country was on the brink of war. William Wordsworth’s words came to mind, naturally: The world is too much with us— a slightly more elegant phrasing than, “Stop the world I want to get off.”
In primitive times, an individual’s survival depended upon being a member of a group. Today, I’m not so sure, given the amount of bullying and violence in the world. Yet, if people do seek to cut themselves off from the herd, scientific research assures us they pay a price. Going it alone may alter our brain structure and increase the amount of inflammation in our bodies, reactions stemming from setting ourselves apart and “create[ing] a highly personal and prolonged private hell.” (“Is There a Cure for Loneliness?” by Lynn Darling, AARP, Dec. 2019 page 57.)
Much has changed since Homo sapiens decided to walk on two legs. We live in houses or apartments, not caves. We have fewer children and family members may live in far-flung places. Nonetheless, our brains are intractable and require human closeness.
The only alternative between going nuts in the world or going nuts out of the world is to sleep. At nearly 104, my mother chooses to sleep. I, on the other hand, fear bad dreams. I long for another alternative. Happily, I may have found one.
The other day woman sat down beside me at the retirement center, her face glowing like fish scales reflecting sunlight. Naturally, as the nation was on the brink of war, I wondered if she owned a quantity of arms manufacturing stock. “How goes your day?” I asked to test my theory.
Her smile grew broad, like an expanding balloon. “Oh, I’m had such a wonderful time” she sighed, turning to look at me. “I’ve spent the morning tutoring youngsters who need help with their reading. Those children were absolute darlings.”
Eureka! Something snapped in my brain like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. I’d found the third option.
When spirits sink, we can give ourselves a boost with an act of kindness. Now, that’s my sense of community.