We're all deeply connected. So, how did we get so far apart?
The news is always full of anger, hatred, murder, and theft, not to mention war and threats of war, and to read it every day, you'd come to think that the most common mindset in the world is the adversarial stand: Me against you, us against them, ours versus theirs. And yet, as all the deepest thinkers across the most profound sciences and religions tell us, we're all connected at the most fundamental level imaginable. We blossom from the same roots. We've bubbled up from the same soup. We're also touched by a common spirit, and inhabit a common home. We need to appreciate these deep connections more. We need to put aside false division and live our unity.
I came across an odd little story recently. And it stuck in my head. We have a lot of great writers where I live, in Wilmington, NC, both novelists and nonfiction types. And among our local magazines is a great monthly celebrating the arts and culture, called Salt. In the most recent issue, the great novelist Wiley Cash (A Land More Kind Than Home, This Dark Road to Mercy) tells some stories about southern writers on book tour. This one tweaked my attention. Wiley writes:
When my friend Tom Franklin left Mississippi on book tour, he told his wife that he was taking along his copy of Cold Mountain just in case he ran into Charles Frazier on his stop in North Carolina. "You're crazy," his wife said. "North Carolina's too big. What are the odds?" Halfway through his tour, Tom realized he needed a new pair of blue jeans, so when he arrived in Raleigh for his book signing at Quail Ridge Books, he headed first to the Crabtree Valley Mall, where he ran into Charles Frazier. "I saw him in J.C. Penney," he said. "I told him I had a copy of Cold Mountain out in my car, and he said he'd be happy to sign it."
Ok. How strange is that? Think about it for a second. In a state with millions of people, scattered through hundreds, and maybe even thousands of cities and towns and hamlets, all moving around here and there, or sometimes, if they're writers, staying inside their own homes while writing all day, what's the probability that this one guy visiting a few cities in North Carolina for a book tour will personally see a particular famous author he admires, and has prepared to see by bringing along a book to be signed, in a J.C. Penney - not in a bookstore, or library, or public radio station lobby, or Apple Store, where writers sometimes go to get their Macs fixed? And yes, of course, I know that coincidences, minor and major, happen all the time. But really. My life has been chock full of such things, and it's almost like I've been destined to hear other people's stories of the like, so that I'll think hard about what these marvels may indicate, or mean, far beyond just the real but still odd fact that even the immensely improbable is probably going to happen now and then.
I've come to suspect that our deep connections, at the most fundamental level, give rise to a form of potential informational access, and knowledge, for which we don't have either clear categories, or any solid understanding. And yet, our understanding has never been a requirement for reality. Throughout human history, we've failed for long stretches of time to understand many things that were nonetheless real. Sometimes our understanding catches up with the experienced realities that have formerly eluded us, and sometimes the mysteries continue. But their actuality does not depend on our conceptual grasp.
Are there then connections and ways of knowing that we could, in principle, be using to enhance our lives and positive impacts on the world around us? A psychologist friend once told me that he thinks the single most important quality for human beings to have is open-ness. Are we open enough to the strange and potentially fruitful interconnections that we may enjoy with others?
In a world of obvious and noisy divisiveness, perhaps we should think about such things more. Pay attention. Listen. And when you feel a nudge that maybe doesn't make sense, on the surface, and that might even elicit an "Are you crazy?" response if you mention it to someone else, maybe you should show it some respect, and act on it. You just never know. Or maybe you do.