In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes, “Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” She’s right: it hurts to be socially isolated.
At times in my life I would have read this and thought, “This is why I need to be married. If I remain single, my life will be purposeless and full of suffering. Life will have meaning only once I find my soulmate.”
But I would argue that this short snippet from Brown only addresses one side of human connection. Yes, a lack of connection hurts, but there is also an inescapable suffering that occurs in the day-to-day grind of community, whenever humans come together and bump elbows and share bathrooms. Relationships are messy, but the messiness contains a sanctifying purpose.
In my home now, numerous things call me out of myself into a place of sacrifice and selflessness. The usual stacks of dishes. Forgetting when it’s my week to do groceries (and everyone starves). Disagreeing on what constitutes a “comfortable” temperature in the dead of winter. It is through these conflicts that I have realized the role my housemates play in sharpening me and calling me to serve. Sometimes that looks like forcing myself to wash dishes that aren’t mine, or to clean cat urine off the basement steps when Clouds decides he doesn’t want to walk the extra ten feet to his litter box. Sometimes it means lending my car so my housemates can run an errand or pick someone up from work. These are simple inconveniences that could be easily avoided if I chose to live a more solitary lifestyle, but they remind me daily of my call to live sacrificially for others and not just myself.
My housemate Jamie has a quote from Mary Oliver above her desk that reads, “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” When I haven’t picked up my guitar in a couple weeks, my housemates will often push me on it, encouraging me to do the hard work of drawing out my gifts. When I’m hit by the ravages of Seasonal Affective Disorder, they’re here to check in and make sure I’m still eating and sleeping. They’ve stood by my side through the fallout of countless trying circumstances that arise as a single twenty-something in a culture that says singleness means there’s something wrong with you.
As a displaced Albertan with a strong love for my family, I’ve made a habit of keeping in touch with my parents through weekly phone calls. It’s my way of keeping up with all the actual ‘family drama’ that I’m missing out on by living 3000kms away. During my time here in Hamilton, my parents have come to visit me on several occasions, and I know the trips have provided my mother some relief from the fear that I’m living in squalor and complete isolation. After we’ve caught up on the weekly news, my mom often signs off with a simple, but profound farewell:
“Say hi to your other family for us”.
Read more stories of hope and heartbreak in the Summer 2018 symposium on social isolation here.