This week I had several reminders of the importance of human connections. These people coming from different parts of my life spoke to the natural human need for connection. I was reminded that we are social and communal beings, and we naturally long for a community.
Last Saturday, Maryan and I attended Maryan’s sister’s memorial service in Atlanta, Georgia. Even though it was a small service, family and friends came from California, Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to grieve together with family and friends in Georgia. They laughed and cried together as they told stories of growing up together and getting into mischief. All stories were about how they shared their lives together. People hugged one another and shared their tears freely with each other. Even though their hearts ached, they connected through sharing their pain.
On Monday, I reconnected with a “brother” - that is what we call each other – whom, even though I had talked on the phone several times, I had seen only once in the past 16 years. However, our closeness is not dependent on how many times we meet or how often we meet, but it is about how committed we are to each other. Hilary was an international graduate student at the University of Minnesota Duluth trying to navigate the bitter long northern Minnesota winter. My father was once an international student living away from his family in a strange country; I was able to empathize with his longing for family and home. Maryan and I opened our hearts and our home, and quickly he became a part of the family. He loved our children, and to this day, they speak of Hilary with great love and fondness. Once he found out we were moving to Minnesota, he was ready to drive over 200 miles so we could see each other. When I told him that I was coming to Duluth to see him, he asked us to stay at his home. We reconnected as if we never parted.
On Tuesday, I saw a friend whom I had not seen since 1997. Father Art ran Camp Crosswoods, and as the Associate Pastor at the Korean Presbyterian Church of Minnesota, I rented his camp for our summer youth camping program. Even though we had not seen each other for almost a quarter of a century, we easily shared the joys and sorrows of our lives. It was as though we were best of friends. I had not realized just how much I missed his friendship. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to stay in touch. Although our relationship was initially built on each of our ministries, we developed a close personal relationship that exceeded our work. We connected because we had similar hopes for the young people.
On Wednesday, I reconnected with a friend that I had known for 40 years. We talk often, but we have not seen each other in several years. Because of the schedule differences, Mark and Kay will be in North Dakota when we are in Duluth, but because our friendship is so important to all of us, they are driving more than an hour to come to the halfway point so we could meet to share a meal. Mark and I were college friends, but he is very different from me as my friends have noticed. He is calm and not too loud. He thinks before he speaks and listens before he talks – traits I have never been accused of. But I think our friendship was built on mutual admiration for our strengths or the differences between us. He has accepted me for who I was, and I always appreciated his friendship. We connected because we were both transfer students to the University of Wisconsin Platteville at the same time. I transferred the following year again, so we were together for only a year, but we connected because we were there for each other through difficult transitions.
On Thursday, I reconnected with a friend from high school. Eric and I first met in 1976 when his family moved to Platteville, Wisconsin. He has been teaching at international schools since 1986 and has lived in several countries. He is in the U.S. now and planning his next move. Eric has regularly stopped by during his travels and is always full of information about our common friends. People are very important to him, and if it was not for Eric, I am not sure I would know anything about people from my hometown. Eric and I connected in high school because we enjoyed some of the similar activities. We were both in Orchestra, choir, and wrestling. We also spent a lot of time cross country skiing and biking. Later in college, we shared an apartment and attended the same church. We connected because we had similar interests that allowed us to create shared experiences.
Human interactions are created in various ways. As we talk about worshipping in person in mid-August, we are once again talking about having a human connection. We will have a shared experience of surviving a pandemic, and we will have much to talk about. However, human connections are built on openness and welcoming. Let us be the people who will be able to open our hearts when we meet in person and include them in our lives. Let us value personal connections.