“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” William James
I sit on my porch, morning coffee in hand, watching light expand as the sun rises above the horizon. In those first rays I catch the glint of fresh spiderwebs. They connect marigolds to basil in porch planters, extend to the rhododendron just below and on to the wrought iron railing. The webs sparkle in the early sun, holding dew droplets soon to evaporate.
I only notice these in the quiet morning. By 9:00 I move on, my vision clouded by the day’s tasks and concerns. The connections remain, I just don’t see them. That’s how I feel in COVID time. With new eyes I see what has always been–the many ways we are connected. The virus binds us across the seas and around the block. All are vulnerable, none have a reserve of antibodies. Any of us can get it.
Seeing these connections leads me to consider other connections. We are connected by our national history. We look to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic for wisdom in how we might live through this. While I was not alive in 1918, I did live through the 1960s social unrest with its racial and political turmoil. I see echoes of that now. I remember a cartoon from then with two aged baby boomers in a nursing home brandishing their canes, still arguing about the Vietnam War. I fast forward to now and imagine the same picture with one wearing a red MAGA cap, dueling politics to the very end. We are caught in a myth that we are separate. We aren’t. We all belong.
We are connected in our personal history. Where did we come from? Who is in our family tree? When did our DNA cross the seas to get here? We all did, whether in the hull of a boat, across a land bridge or by sleek jet. Chosen or forced. Looking back or eyes ahead. We all came from somewhere else.
I recently saw the exhibit “When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Art and Migration” at Mia, the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Entering you encounter a world map spread across a long wall, its continental shapes knitted from yarn. Colors and patterns distinguish countries within continents. Strands of yarn loop between and among land masses over open oceans, connecting one with another and on to a third–over and through, messy and entangled, representing the flow of migrants. Some threads simply drop to the floor, still attached to the remaining skein of yarn. The journey paused.
My 20-year-old grandmother left Germany to join Iowa cousins who had emigrated earlier. A neighbor’s grandmother came to St Paul via a Thailand refugee camp to a community planted by earlier arrivals. Similar storylines.
Sometimes we are surprised at the connections we discover. A friend has found an English cousin born during World War II whose paternity is shared with cousins here–a surprise to the whole family! Stories left on one shore drift forward like notes tucked in bottles thrown into the sea. Buried secrets uncovered generations later.
My grown daughter was born in India and at 8½ months traveled across the Atlantic to become family with us. When I see East Indian Americans, I know we are connected. We share something of that far away land. They have no idea of that connection. Unlike when I pushed her in a stroller and her different heritage was evident, nothing about how I look or speak or live would tell them we are connected. But I know.
We are connected to the natural world. My daily walk brings me through a neighbor’s sprawling butterfly garden. I loiter, watching monarchs drink, float and re-land on blue violet asters, deep yellow goldenrod, and the centers of purple coneflowers. They are engrossed; I am of no concern. These are super generation monarchs, the generation that migrates 3,000 miles to Mexican mountains where they winter before laying eggs in spring, passing on their internal GPS to the next generation who will begin the journey north. As they flutter by, I see my connection to those far away mountains. If that winter habitat is destroyed, I lose these delightful creatures.
What if instead of assuming we are disconnected, we assume we have something in common…and we inquire of each other until we know what that is? Click To TweetWe are connected in our neighborhoods. We rely on each other. One neighbor picks up groceries. A friend drops off dinner. Church members gather in a nearby park, six feet apart, catching up on life. We know we want to be together.
The world is connected by our 24×7 news cycle. A police killing in Minneapolis sets off demonstrations in Barcelona, Athens and Helsinki as well as Cape Town and Tokyo. Racial unrest and disparities are just below the surface, erupting as another incident explodes over social media, even before details are known.
I have used this time apart to reconnect, too. I catch up with friends and family across the country. I wonder how things are there–in Arizona, Utah, Texas, Iowa. In many places the difficulties of the virus are exacerbated by heat, fires, or devastating storms. We share current concerns and remember our linked pasts. I sift through old memorabilia and relive joys and sorrows, reconnecting with the young woman I was.
We are also connected in our destiny–where we are going. We bring each other along. Parents move because they see opportunities for their family. We do it as community, advocating for schools, parks, and safe places for children. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
Gretta Thunberg, a 17-year-old Swedish activist, energizes student strikes across the globe. Her message resonates with young people worldwide, connected by their love of the planet, fear for its demise and a common shared future. They know. What happens with the Amazonian Rain Forest will make a difference in the ice melt of northern Sweden.
This web of life that connects us feels messy, random, chaotic–like the spiderwebs on my porch. All the differences we thought separated us are falling. Oceans, borders, walls–none of them hold back the virus. Not politics, not patriarchy, not fear, not hope, not denial, not wisdom, not foolishness. It is true that some of us are more vulnerable than others–but all of us can catch and transmit it. What we are learning is that no one is safe unless we are all safe.
When I have a sense of connection, I feel an inner warmth, a curiosity, a wondering. Who are you? How can I learn more about you? What if with each person we encountered we assumed we had a connection? What if instead of assuming we are disconnected, we assume we have something in common…and we inquire of each other until we know what that is?
The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Tich Nhat Hanh, says, “We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.” Perhaps that is the gift of this virus. We are part of a world where we all belong, we all matter, we are all together. May we not forget.
Mary Lou Logsdon is a Spiritual Director and retreat leader in the Twin Cities. She is a member of the Sacred Ground Spiritual Direction Formation Program faculty. She can be reached at email@example.com.