Thirty years ago my grandmother was dying of cancer. She was bedridden and there were no cell phones, text messaging or email. Every day friends of hers (sometimes the same ones) would come visit. I would run to the kitchen to prepare the bowl of fruit and put the coffee pot on the fire, carefully measuring out spoons of Turkish coffee just as she had taught me. Sometimes they would stay 15 minutes sometimes three hours.
My neighbor today is forty-something and in good health, but every time you ask her how she’s doing, there’s some sort of complaint or physical ailment. You’ll find her most often at the dentist, the doctor, the dermatologist, the gynecologist, the psychologist or the pharmacist. Otherwise she’s at the beauty salon getting hair or nails or some other part of her body done.
I was watching a movie yesterday about an American sports agent who brought three Indian guys to his bachelor pad in the United States to teach them baseball. He goes into their room one day and sees a table all set up with pictures, statues, candles and flowers.
“What the hell is this?”
They were on their knees with hands together in prayer.
“It’s a shrine for our prayers,” they respond.
He shakes his head and walks away towards his oversized pool where no one is playing and no one is waiting for him.
My first coaching client ever was a lonely married woman I felt I could not help. Her situation surpassed my experience at the time and I referred her to someone else.
“Can we please just meet and talk once a week?” she asked when I broke the news.
I couldn’t accept money from her simply to provide her with company but it broke my heart that she was willing to pay just to have someone listen to her.
In Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she talks about the result of a decade worth of research and studies on people who were fulfilled in their life. Her conclusions were that courage, compassion and connection are key ingredients to living from a place of worthiness. The people who didn’t live with those three elements found themselves struggling with shame and unhappiness much more often that others.
In an age where so much of success is associated with competition, lack of trust, independence, strength and ‘leadership’, there is little room left in our lives for authentic connection with others. We’ve replaced true connection with paid substitutes (doctors, therapists, masseuses, bar tenders) that keep us feeling that we are in control and calling the shots (pun intended!).
Meanwhile with social media and the internet, we have become more desperate to be seen and recognized while at the same time deluding ourselves that we are ‘connecting’. But every Instagram shot is filtered, every snapchat scene staged and every Facebook post plotted to the point where we are jealous of our own ‘online lives’.
Connection is a key factor in people feeling happy but because we constantly have the impression that we’re connecting, we don’t even realize that being real with others is so desperately missing from our lives.
My grandmother passed away two years later on Christmas day. I got to thinking that my Grandma would never have understood my work. In those days my job as a life coach wouldn’t have made sense because the connections people had with each other often took the place of mentors and counsellors, advisors and coaches. People spent time with the elderly and the social part of life was a key part of what made a community thrive.
I’m not saying there is no room today for Coaching and other supportive professions because there is a lot more to offer to people as a coach or therapist than mere connection, and I’m not saying that connection is gone because of the way the world is today. I’m simply saying that people did it better in the past and it’s gotten harder today. Maybe because there are more distractions and there is more at stake (self image, self-worth, success?).
That forty-something neighbor in fine health is desperate for authentic connection, for someone to see who she really is and maybe listen to her once in a while. That sports agent in his big windy house can’t understand why his life is so empty despite all that he has while his protégées sleep on the floor and pray to something that makes them feel happier and more spiritually connected than half their host nation. In the song Calling All Angels by Train, Patrick Monahan sings that “private eyes solve marriage lies cause we don’t talk for years.” How true that must be for so many married couples, family members and feuding friends?
I look back on the last couple of years my Grandmother lived and I think wow, her friends really knew how to make a dying person feel loved and seen, even if it was just 15 minutes at a time.
In the coming year I would love you (and me) to think about what kinds of relationships we need to be cultivating to live more supported, connected, authentic lives. We need to learn how to listen better, how to be there for others without rescuing them or bombarding them with advice, how to connect to the greater world around us with less judgement, less negativity and more understanding, and how to start ‘seeing’ the people we know best with new eyes and an open heart.