Savoring Precious Human Connections

November 5, 2020
pathway through aspen trees

I dare say I’m not the only one feeling fragile during these long months grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s like I’ve lost a layer of skin. And now, just as students like my daughter have returned to the classroom and college campus, cases are rising. How long will the pandemic continue to pose a threat to our health and way of life? Will things ever be “normal” again? The answers seem more and more unclear. Still, life persists. Babies are born. Lovers marry. Too many good people die from cancer. 

The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg from cancer hit me hard. If ever there was a cancer warrior, she was one. Five bouts over 20 years. I’m simply in awe of her fortitude and resilience. I’m also in awe of the outpouring of humanity following her death—and how, for a brief moment, the young and old, red state and blue state focused on her extraordinary life. Her grace. Her surprising sense of humor. Her unflinching commitment to justice. 

Mourning sharpens our priorities. So does cancer. In the midst of both of these powerful experiences, all the nonsense falls away. The to-do list waiting to be tackled. The social media posts. The resentment over what-nots. None of it matters nearly as much as the people we care about who are suffering. 

It warmed my heart to see Chuck Yielding dancing by himself in the parking lot of Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, while his 14-year-old son Aiden danced with him from his hospital window. Aiden was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) in May and needs chemotherapy weekly for 2 ½ years. Because Chuck’s wife is a nurse at the hospital, it made sense for her to be with Aiden since only one parent can be present due to COVID-19 restrictions.

But Chuck wants to help his son stay strong. So, he and Aiden share earbuds. Chuck pulls out all the moves to Saturday Night Fever and Michael Jackson; he does the Electric Slide and The Hustle and whatever it takes to put a smile on his son’s face every week. The video is so soul-lifting it’s not surprising it’s gone viral. 

I had my own soul-lifting experience the other day. My husband, Steve, and I had gone for a hike in Red Cliff, Colorado, not far from Minturn. The road to the trailhead was very gutted and rocky, so we wound up parking a quarter mile away, next to two women who introduced themselves as Judy and Michele. They were friends out for a Sunday hike. None of us knew the trail so we set out together. It was a spectacular fall day with the sun lighting the aspen trees in warm bursts of gold, orange, and red. Even the rocky ground glistened. We made easy small talk.

I don’t remember how the conversation turned to cancer, but it did, and before anyone of us knew it, we had connected on a deeper level. Steve and I wound up telling Judy and Michele how we’d both lost our first spouses to cancer while raising our children. Judy had had a similar experience, albeit in Italy, since her husband was Italian. Her loss was not recent either, but she was emotional talking about how hard it was to raise her 3 young daughters after losing her husband. Michele, a school counselor, was also well-versed in grief. With this kind of shared humanity, we ended up spending the day together. Telling our stories and talking about the future.  

Savoring precious human connections born from cancer, and from loss, help us feel less alone in the world. We might still feel vulnerable, but it’s comforting to see ourselves and our experiences reflected in others—and vice versa. At a time when we’re all worn down by COVID-19 and the stressors it presents, community matters more than ever. 

What people and groups help you focus on the things that matter most in life?  Engage with them because they will lift you high above the din of isolation and fear. You’ll feel less fragile in the world when you connect with your community in authentic and meaningful ways. 



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