By Tim E. Renzelmann
Like so many others, I’ve been “out of sorts” since mid-March when COVID-19 drastically impacted many of our lives. For me, there was the emptiness I felt when I removed the flyers from our exam room bulletin boards for many of our on-going activities that were cancelled; causing an emptiness that has yet to be entirely filled. Like so many others, I am being reminded of the importance and value of the meaningful connections I make in my day-to-day life with family, friends, acquaintances and even strangers!
Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s new book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connections in a Sometimes Lonely World” seems to have been released at a particularly opportune time. In it, Murthy examines the research on loneliness as it relates to physical and mental health as well as longevity. Jill Suttie, Psy.D. (book review editor for Greater Good) questioned Murthy “about his book and its implications, both generally and during this time of sheltering in place, where social connection is even harder to come by” and reported the exchange in an article titled “How Loneliness Hurts Us and What to Do About It.”
In this article Suttie asks Murthy, “You write that we need three levels of connection – intimate (partner or spouse), relational (circle of friends) and collective (community) – to avoid loneliness. Why is community important?
Murthy replies, As human beings, we evolved to need each other and to be part of a community. There’s something deeply ingrained in us about wanting to be a part of a shared identity. So, we find ourselves gravitating toward various affinity groups based on shared religious beliefs or shared race and ethnicity or shared nationality or shared interest, and we derive a lot of meaning and value from a common identity with others.
One thing that COVID-19 is highlighting for so many people experiencing physical distancing is not only how important relationships with family and friends are, but also how meaningful our interactions with neighbors, relatives, and strangers in our communities are. How nice it would be to just sit in a coffee shop and work while being surrounded by strangers or to go and shoot hoops on the basketball court with other people! There is a sense of connection we experience, even with strangers, that’s very valuable, that makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger.
When you understand that we need intimate connection, good friends, and community, you start to recognize why somebody can be in a deeply fulfilled marriage and still feel lonely. And that doesn’t mean that your spouse isn’t giving you what you need; it just means that we need different types of connection in our life.
Here is a link to the full article:
Here is a link to a related report on PBS News Hour:
I suspect I am not the only one struggling a bit with how this pandemic has (in some cases, temporarily, and in other cases perhaps more permanently) changed so many important and meaningful connections (intimate, relational and collective). It’s easy sometimes to feel paralyzed when confronted by things outside of our control... things like COVID-19 and its many pervasive and less-than-positive impacts. As I have often suggested, the remedy to this paralysis can often be found by simply focusing LESS on what we CAN’T do and more on what we CAN do! As my dad often points out, “You are an Ameri-CAN... not an Ameri-CAN’T”! 😊
For me, it initially started by introducing VIRTUAL connections into our Local Cancer Community. It was not necessarily something I WANTED to do... but it was something I COULD do. That seemed to ease some of the emptiness caused by the many cancelled activities... but it hasn’t been entirely fulfilling. The ST&BF Steps to Survivorship Cumulative Walk/Run and Bike Ride was another attempt to create connections through a common activity and goal with a few others. And in an effort to replace even more of that emptiness with something more fulfilling (even if not completely fulfilling) I have rather spontaneously (but very thoughtfully) put together some plans to replace those previously thwarted by COVID-19 for a “Celebration of Life” on National Cancer Survivors Day!
So, with considerable care and caution, several in-person opportunities for area cancer patients and survivors are being offered starting in June along with continued virtual opportunities. NOTE: People age 65 or older and those who are medically vulnerable should continue to limit travel and remain at home as much as possible.
Little by little, by focusing on what we CAN do (safely) and not what we CAN’T do (or shouldn’t do), fulfillment is beginning to fill the empty spaces!!!