“I have always felt that a human being could only be saved by another human being. I am aware that we do not save each other very often. But I am also aware that we save each other some of the time.” James Baldwin, American writer
Thursday night was the community dinner. Only around fifty there. The cold, the snow, the dreary inversion seems to cast a gloomy spell on the valley. People must be cocooning at home.
I feel somewhat listless myself. Still, I remember my job. To make name tags. That may be my official job, but it gives me cover for my real mission. To connect with others. To do my part to create community and a sense of belonging.
I make some boo-boos. I have trouble understanding a couple of kids (the mother explains they are autistic) as they try to tell me how to spell their names. I forget the names of some people I wanted to remember from last week.
Nevertheless, I notice my energy increasing. I’m focused on folks. I’m curious. Getting out of myself. Into others.
I especially like Pierre. The genius inventor is how I have begun to think of him. With eyes glistening, he tells me three times how creative the human species is.
Pierre is a biologist who has lived around the world. He’s formed a bike club at the middle school. The kids receive donated old bikes and refurbish them under his guidance.
Pierre told me last night that the kids had assembled a bike totally by themselves. It’s something like the 365th bike they have worked on, made over good as new, and then given away. Then he shows me the gifts he’s brought for people tonight.
“It’s a miracle,” Pierre says. “like turning a kitchen knife into a frying pan.” Hard as I try, I can’t work up the enthusiasm he has for these mini LED flashlights with two CR2016 batteries on a keychain. The miracle has something to do with a little diode. I am glad to have one, however.
Others are happy to receive the little flashlights as well. Spirits are brightening. It’s hard to stay apathetic around Pierre. He loves his name. The Frenchiness. He proudly tells me he also lives on a cul-de-sac. Frenchiness is one of his themes too.
Then Pierre asks me if I know what to call a French guy with an empty bladder. "Pierre, Pierre." I don’t get it. My husband must explain it to me.
I do get that something important is going on these Thursday nights. It’s not just about the food.
It’s the characters from all walks of life – doctors, dentists, electricians, janitors, mechanics, bookkeepers, mothers, people collecting unemployment. Different religions and no religion. Babies. Octogenarians plus. People with different shades of skin and rainbow-colored hair.
All these people… moving… closer together. Sensing our interconnectedness. Our common human bond.
Threat systems are dialed way down. Oxytocin is flowing. We are being tamed.
“Tamed?” My husband asked as I reflected the following morning on the Thursday evening experience.
“Yes, tamed. Like the fox talks about in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.” (It’s probably Pierre who is making me think of French things.)
The idea of being tamed still makes little sense to John. So, I look up the passage.
A fox has begged the little prince to tame him. The prince does not understand the word “tame" either. The fox explains that it means “to establish ties.”
The fox continues to explain that at the present moment the fox and little prince mean nothing to each other. However, if the little prince tames the fox, they will need each other and each will become unique and special to the other.
“What must I do to tame you?” asked the little prince. “You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down a little distance from me—like that—in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstanding. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…”
The little prince does tame the fox (they become friends, in relationship with each other, accountable to each other). Eventually the Little Prince must go away, however. The fox (who cries, of course) wants to give the little prince a gift. Tell him a secret.
The secret is probably the most quoted passage from the book. I hesitate to share the quote with John.
I know exactly what he will do. He will jump up and down and tell me, “Yes, yes, this is what I have been trying to tell you.” I will have to print the quote out and put it on the refrigerator.
And now here is the fox's secret, a very simple secret he says. "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
The fox goes on to tell the Little Prince that men have forgotten the truth, but he implores the little prince not to forget.
I am beginning to see the taming process unfold – it's happening at the community dinners. Coming back each week. Sitting a little closer. Being patient. Being present. Sensing each other.
Perhaps we’re learning the secret…beginning to see each other rightly. From the heart.
This seeing rightly from the heart, contains another element. Tenderness.
Tenderness, according to Nobel prize winner in literature Olga Tokarczuk is beyond empathy. It's a "modest form of love."
Then Tokarczuk goes farther and this is where I think she offers us something deeply perceptive.
Tenderness in her view includes a sense of a common sharing of fate, an almost spiritual revelation of being interconnected in a way that most of us miss in our hurrying and scurrying around attending to stuff.
“Tenderness,” Tokarczuk writes “is deep emotional concern about another being, its fragility, its unique nature, and its lack of immunity to suffering and the effects of time. Tenderness perceives the bonds that connect us, the similarities and sameness between us. It is a way of looking that shows the world as being alive, living, interconnected…”
That "interconnected" word means something to me conceptionally. It adds a whole new layer to seeing rightly...from the heart... that which is essential... and invisible to the eye.
After I finished my Ph.D., a friend of mine asked me to put all that I had learned into a sentence.
“It's all connected,” I said.
I can’t remember now what I was thinking those many years ago. I know I was learning a lot about systems, mental filters, human development, social change, and relationships. Even stuff like the butterfly effect https://fs.blog/the-butterfly-effect/. Seemed like the world opened up to me in ways I never saw before.
Maybe now I’m actually learning through experiencing what it means...that concept that it's all connected. We're all connected.
Learning this way of seeing, not from books, not from the head, but increasingly...patiently from the heart. And if I (we) can see rightly, imagine what doors this way of seeing could open to me (to us) for love, peace, collaboration, collective wisdom, happiness, creativity, kindness, generosity, compassion, joy ... and for saving each other?
How might we journey together using our heart to see rightly what is essential and invisible to the eye?