I attended a lecture last week by Francis Fukuyama, an international development expert. He spoke about urbanization, and how societies developed when they moved from villages to cities, and how with the city came a new kind of freedom. Many people did not like this freedom because the village allowed them to feel connected, and the city was anonymous.
I know that he is speaking of a city in a different time period, before snow ball fights and World Cup viewings for thousands in parks were organized via facebook, but I wish I could have shared these stories of connection to those feeling alone and anonymous:
Watch how these dancers at the weekly drum circle (my favorite DC activity) in Malcom X Park connect to the music, and to the people creating it:
In cities, people connect to strangers in curious ways:
Recently, someone sent a postcard to postsecret.com:
In response, within hours, over 20,000 people joined a facebook group encouraging the writer to live, and people in the SF Bay Area joined together to write notes of encouragement, hope, and love on the sidewalk of the Golden Gate (begin at 1:00):
Jonathan Safran Foer (my favorite man to quote) wrote, “The more you love someone, he came to think, the harder it is to tell them. It surprised him that strangers didn't stop each other on the street to say I love you."
This time they did. Connection to a stranger. Hope for the future.
A non-urban but incredible connection:
Recently I was exposed to a Malian musician, Toumani Diabate. He is famous for playing the kora, an indigenous instrument to Mali. His family oral tradition says he is a part of 71 generations on his father’s side of kora players. How many years is that?? I don’t even know. The blood of 71 generations pulses through his veins, moving his fingers to create a sound that his family mastered. The Kora is his connection to the past.
I wish I knew what people in my family were doing 71 generations ago. I wonder if I could find any similarities in our lives.
Connecting with people is easy for me. It always has been. It is not uncommon for me to spend an afternoon deep in conversation with a stranger, and come out with a best friend or sometimes even a romance. This month, I witnessed someone with an enormous heart terrified of connection. I cannot imagine how lonely it must feel to lead a life so guarded. Connecting to others is what makes us human.
My connections often go something like this:
One of my life’s greatest teacher’s, Ed, traveled to Nicaragua to volunteer. He met Brazilian nuns who wore brown rings made from plants around their wedding fingers. They explained to him that it meant they were married to the poor, to the work that they do. When he asked for one because the idea overjoyed him, he was told he had to earn one, and after days of working alongside them, at the end of his volunteering trip, he was given a ring. He decided he would give these rings out to the young people he worked with when he saw they were committed, passionate, and dedicated to bettering the world.
I received my first ring when I was 16. At the time, it was one of my life’s greatest accomplishments, to be seen in such a light by Ed. It represented all I was capable of. I continue to wear it today as a symbol of where I've been, and where I'm about to go.
A few days ago, I met a Brazilian priest with a ring made from a plant around his finger. Eight years after hearing about these rings, seven years of wearing one, I have finally met someone from the origin.
This ring, among the students who Ed taught, is somewhat a badge of honor. To this priest, it’s a daily reminder of a life-long commitment. To me, it's all of those things, but finding him represents a small token of hope that brings strangers together in a world where so many choose to, or feel like they must, walk alone.
I guess connections in the city aren't so rare anymore.