I read this short story in my early teen years that described an unusual and cleverly designed prison. The cells were set up in a sort of spiral within a stone enclosure. Each cell contained one prisoner and the prison term for that prisoner was based on the length of time that it would take for his cell to work through the spiral to the opening once again. During his term he would have no contact with other people. I found this both fascinating from a logical standpoint – how would he eat, how did they remove waste, etc.; and horrifying from a human standpoint.
I no longer remember the title or the author but the premise for this story stuck in my mind. Perhaps because it is the antithesis of our social human experience. The time alone appealed to my introverted side, but disturbed my extroverted brain cells. Even the most rabidly introverted person can usually see some benefit in connecting with other people, if within a much smaller group.
At about the same age that I came across this story, I believed that if you made a deep connection with someone, you would remain connected to that person forever. I have a collection of hurtful memories that belie that idea. Connection does not equate loyalty or longevity, but it doesn’t require these traits to be worthy.
A person met in a time of need and never seen again can have a profound effect upon you. One person caused a terrifying car accident when my boys were very small but I choose to remember the dozen or so strangers who stopped and offered assistance without ever expecting anything in return. I return this gift by doing the same whenever I can for other strangers in need. These are the fleeting connections that go under the name of random acts of kindness. They strengthen our humanity.
We have blood connections with family that extend from close relatives to cousins two and three times removed. There are shared experiences of various family gatherings, there is a built in support network when times are tough. My aunt and uncle took time out of their busy schedules to drive up and sit with my boys when I had major surgery a few years back. It was right before Christmas but they understood that my boys would need to have advocates who had been through such an experience before.
The sibling relationship is so nuanced and complex. We have shared so much, but sometimes as rivals and sometimes as allies. When it comes down to it, a brother might be the worst tease of a sister but don’t take that to mean that as an outsider to the family you can do the same. The brother may take you to task. (Can you tell that my brother teased my sister and me mercilessly as children?)
Then there are friends and acquaintances. The selection process for these connections begins randomly – a shared class or activity – and grows deliberately in depth, breadth and length as we nurture the relationships. My oldest active friendships originated in my junior high years. The interactions may go dormant here and there and due to all my moves we have a physical distance as a barrier, but we remain friends. Connected. In this past year I have added new people to this category; met randomly, identification of some kindred sensibility, connection growing.
Sometimes I might feel as though I am stuck in a stone cell, but I can shake this feeling off by remembering all my varied connections.
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