The high school where I used to teach was in the news last week.
A group of students, protesting hate speech directed at the school’s LGBT community, walked out of class and were subsequently suspended for one day.
The students, members of the group Gender Sexuality Alliance, seemed to think the punishment was fair. After all, they were warned that if they skipped class, they would be disciplined.
The incident certainly brought attention to the issue. Front page stories in the local and regional newspapers delivered the account to thousands of readers.
Ah, school days.
Now that I look back on it, one of the best aspects of high school, apart, you know, from all the learning and stuff, were the various clubs students had the opportunity to become involved with.
Our school had clubs for students with interests in everything from Bible studies to anime, from skiing to computer programming, and from environmental activism to publishing a literary magazine.
What a wonderful way to build the practice of coming together alongside others with common interests to share our excitement and joy.
We don’t do that enough these days.
Sharing interests on social media can be beneficial, but it doesn’t replace real-life, human-to-human personal interaction.
I belong to a Facebook group for runners of, ahem, a certain age. I enjoy posting and responding to posts in that group.
There are some posts about injuries, to be sure, but most of the news is good news, runners recounting their exploits and accomplishments. I regularly get inspired reading about the adventures we Baby Boomers experience through running.
I have made acquaintances in the group I enjoy interacting with online but I have never met anyone from the group in real life.
In the running club I run with almost every Tuesday night, I have friends. We have a beer together, travel to races together, can look into each other’s eyes, and know each other’s joys and heartaches outside of our running lives. It’s not the same thing as the social media group.
We humans are wired for social connections. It doesn’t have to be through a club, we can get social interaction by coming together with others who hold similar beliefs.
When you join a church, you don’t (usually) just go to services once a week, you join a Bible study group, you teach Sunday school, you help run Bingo games, craft sales, and holiday bazaars. You become part of a community.
Joining others with the same beliefs doesn’t necessarily mean religion, either. You can participate in the Women’s March or the March for Life or both, depending on your views. You can get involved in the anti-gerrymandering movement with other like-minded souls or volunteer to work at the polls on election day.
Heck, talk to the person in the seat next to you on the airplane, rather than clamping on headphones the minute you sit down. OK, that one can be tricky. I have to admit, I have sometimes looked forward to a few hours of uninterrupted reading time, only to make small talk with a retired teacher from Colorado Springs on the three-hour flight from Denver to Philadelphia.
Sometimes we make connections through shared pain or grief.
I taught in one school for over 30 years, usually averaging 120 students each year. Do the math – that’s a lot of teenagers I learned to know throughout my career. Some of the faces and names become a little blurry over time.
I will never forget, however, the students who were in my class on 9/11. At first, there were whispers that something unusual was happening in New York, then the announcement came over the loudspeaker – classes would stay in the room they currently occupied. Students did not pass from first period to second, third, etc.
I had a class of second-year chemistry students in my room at the time. We turned on the TV and watched, in horror, as the second tower was hit, then as both towers fell.
Teenage boys, who are not afraid of anything, said, “I’m scared, Mrs. Hess.”
“I’m scared too,” I told them with tears in my eyes.
I had a different relationship, forever, with that class. We shared a unique common bond of fear, sorrow, and tenderness.
I will never forget how kind we were to each other after 9/11. Not just my students and me, the whole country.
We looked each other in the eye at the grocery store and smiled. We were congenial while waiting in line. We were even considerate when driving, saying “No, you go first,” at four-way stop signs. We had a bond of shared trauma and anguish.
What happened to us?
We retreated into our iron-clad bunkers of isolation because it’s safer to be alone than to risk rejection, humiliation, or vulnerability through interaction with others who may not accept us or agree with our beliefs.
It’s a false sense of security at best.
Hunkering down in seclusion dismisses our undeniable need for connectedness, our all-too-human heart.
What can we do?
Make those connections. Take a few minutes to talk with your coworkers at the water cooler (you can tell your boss I said it’s OK), smile at the woman washing her hands next to you in the restroom, join the Women’s Club, the Lions Club, heck, join a bowling league. Volunteer with United Way.
Call a friend and go for a walk, invite someone to your house for dinner. Or brunch, I love to be invited for brunch. (To any of my friends reading this: this is a hint.) Be open to possibilities, be willing to make yourself vulnerable, be kind.
We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy. 1 Corinthians 12
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