Social connection is good medicine


“In all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.

—Carl Sagan

There is nothing more soothing than the voice and the touch of those who have shared our common journey.

Throughout all time, even those who choose the cloak of anonymity and ongoing solitude, the time will come when a shared story has the power to turn the fading spark back on.

I remember well seeing my once-sparkling great-grandpa Charlie seem to retreat into a dim existence. I sat in the backseat when my mother convinced him to go on a car ride, hoping to bring him out of his low point. It was a sadness I had never seen in my sidekick and pal Grandpa Charlie, and I could not understand it for the life of me.

It was a couple of days later that my father came up with a brilliant plan. Edna McNaull, who had long been Grandpa Charlie’s neighbor and community historian, might be able to bring cheer.

Charlie had been saying he felt he had lost all of his peers, and while we all brought him joy, his heart felt an unexplainable sort of homesickness for those with whom he had grown up and grown old.

Dad made some calls and arranged a visit with Edna McNaull, who later described our Grandpa Charlie to me as “Ohhhh, Charlie! He is one of the good ones!” with a hearty chuckle. Edna told my father she was looking forward to the day they settled on.

I was too little to remember much of what was said, but I will never forget the joy in that living room on that sunny day. There was laughter and reminiscing and stories of Charlie’s wonderful orneriness shared.

Edna was known for her remarkable ability to recite long, detailed poems, completely from memory. Charlie and Edna had grown up in the time before entertainment came from plugged-in devices. Community clubs provided both entertainment and socialization and as neighbors, the two of them had shared community gatherings, church events, days of threshing, community weddings and funerals in which every single able-bodied person participated.

“The men dug the graves while the women did the cooking and the baking,” Edna would later tell me when I visited on my own as a young adult. I ran across the notebook last week of my notes from that day.

“Your Charlie was one we could always count on, and even when we were grieving he could find a way to lighten the mood. He just had that gift, and a sparkle of good humor,” she said.

It was Edna who helped pull Charlie’s good humor back, and it was the best medicine anyone could have provided. My dad was able to convince him to ride along to see one of his old friends on that day, but it was Edna who gave him back his own gift, the sparkle of good humor.

Science now tells us that socialization is every bit as important as the other elements required to survive, even to thrive, while on this planet. Somehow, my dear Dad was wise enough to know that long before scientific studies proved it necessary.

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