When you feel like you are drowning, even the smallest gesture is a life line, even if the person offering it to you doesn’t realize that what they are giving you amounts to a raft in the middle of a wide ocean where you have been treading water for days.
Countless studies have been done to prove what we have known all along—human beings are social creatures. From our earliest roots in tribes, we are hardwired to seek social connections. It has a real, palpable impact on our mental well-being, even our physical health.
Humans are not unique in this, our desire for connection. We are not the only beings for whom social groups are essential. Other such examples exist in both vertebrate and invertebrate beings. Order Hymenoptera (ants/bees/wasps), for example, have a highly developed eusocial society that depends on other members of the tribe for child rearing, division of labor. Even certain types of shrimp can be said to be social, unlike jaguars, those solitary hunters who stalk the forests alone at night, their territories ranging up to 53 miles, where they walk without feeling the need to connect with another, except during mating season.
I have thought of this often this first year after my husband’s death, how any gesture, no matter how small, could be a life line when you were drowning. I felt bereft of tribe. As if it wasn’t just a husband I had lost, but a whole circle of social support.
A book I have been reading admonishes its listeners to seek growth. I have been trying to do this, as often as possible, whenever possible. To let go of my fear—to do what, to me, feels like risk, like danger—which is try to connect with other human beings. I know that I need it; humans are, after all, social creatures and I am but human. But I know too, that connecting is hard for me. That each attempt at it feels fraught with danger. That it feels is as if I have been standing there with a dandelion to my mouth, blowing seeds, hoping one will land somewhere where it can root, watching the wind take them from me to parts unknown, to inhospitable lands, where nothing will ever grow.
It is spring here and the world outside me is blooming. I sit on the porch at dusk, watching the newly green trees moving ever so gently in the wind. The mother and father geese honk at cars while herding their small yellow goslings back to the safety of the pond. The grass grows unevenly, deepening in colors as it grows. All around me there is growth; birds and bushes, even my son, now past my waist, looking more and more like his own person and less and less like a reflection of someone else. It is so easy for him to be happy, and I want this too, suddenly, fiercely, so deeply in my gut it is akin to ache. Growth. I want to grow. Even if it hurts. Even if it is risky. I want to cast my own lines, my own nets out into the middle of that wide ocean where I have been treading water. To do more than float. To swim.