A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory; it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them– ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you, O my soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,– seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d– till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my soul.
Walt Whitman 1868
This is one of my favorite Whitman poems. Like Walt, I have watched a spider sailing along through the air on a gossamer thread glistening in the sun. I remember wondering at its audacity and bravery, loosening itself to the whims of the air; truly a daring, “nothing ventured, nothing gained” endeavor. Think of the dangers inherent in its rudderless flight: ravenous birds and reptiles, tumultuous waters, fickle winds, sterile landing places.
Whitman’s metaphoric second stanza refers to those ill chances even we humans face, yet we remain optimistic that somewhere, sometime there will be a fortunate connection. How many of us drift along, emotionally, mystically detached, feeling lonesome, isolated, forlorn…solitary and unaided…while pining for the anchors of friendship, family, purpose, love?
I keep reading dire assessments and predictions from mental health experts that many of us, our young people in particular, are falling victim to terrible feelings of aloneness and abandonment due to the ravages of the plague we are experiencing. The disease has become not only a physical corruption but an emotional and mental maleficence. People are feeling disconnected because we are. We are missing the social connections we didn’t realize are so important to our well-being.
This lack of togetherness is possibly the most dangerous aspect of our situation. It is a two-edged sword. If we congregate, we run the risk of infection, sickness, death. If we remain isolated, we fall into treacherous despondence that is causing some to be so disconsolate that they take their own lives. The increasing suicide rate is frightening. If you need help, please call: 800-273-8255 The National Suicide Prevention Hotline!!
We all need connections.
I think we need to remember the connections we already have…or could have.
Reach out, both for yourself and the others you might touch. Connect with family and friends. Make phone calls, send messages. Write a letter! Just tell them you’re thinking of them. The very act of communication will help you and those with whom you interact. If you were lucky enough to get together for the holidays, you felt the togetherness you and they need. Some of us have trouble this time of year without the addition of worries about illness. Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. This is my favorite time of the year, especially when snow falls, but even I have felt SAD at times. Those phone calls and texts are heartwarming and healing!
My wife and I have been fortunate not only in staying healthy but also throughout this pandemic in making connections with our neighbors. We’ve gathered weekly for a Tuesday “happy hour” around our fire pit in the back yard. Sometimes there have been three or four; sometimes a couple of dozen. It’s been amazing to watch the kids play in the yard and so uplifting just to sit and chat about the week. We’ve taken care of one another at other times, as well: mowing the lawn, raking leaves, shoveling snow, running errands for those who need our help.
One of my favorite daily connections is simply hugging my dear wife every day. You’ve undoubtedly heard this before, but a good long hug (that’s only about thirty seconds!) can do wonders for your mental and physical health. It’s like a warm salve for the soul that radiates throughout your body, and it works for both of you! We’re both “huggers” anyway, and my grandkids know Grandpa is going to squeeze them hard. For my vaccinated friends a handshake doesn’t cut it, either.
Don’t forget to connect with yourself! Take the time daily to sit and contemplate your universe. Be still. Listen to the world around you and within you. Know yourself. How do you feel? Why? What would make you feel better? Where can you get it? No, I’m not talking about drugs or alcohol or more pie or chocolate ice cream. If you can’t answer those questions yourself, look elsewhere.
Those everyday connections are priceless and essential for our mental and physical health, but sometimes just a friendly smile or even a hug isn’t enough. Sometimes they’re not possible. Remember that we are blessed in this country to have access to professional counselors and doctors who can take the next steps with us. The need for mental health services has come into the national spotlight, particularly after the Tokyo Olympics. There is no stigma about needing and seeking help when you need it. Recognize the need. Get the help you need.
Make the connections. Have a Happy and Healthy New Year, my friends!
“Fear builds its phantoms which are more fearsome than reality itself.” Jawaharlal Nehru