By Linda Hart Green
I took a photo of a mishmash of wiring out of a cab window in San Jose, Costa Rica. We had just come to a breathless stop as my experienced driver navigated the crisscross of hilly streets from where I was staying to the dental clinic that was restoring my teeth. The city has a mixture of wealth to extreme poverty all within blocks of each other. The intersection from where I took the photo was surrounded by tiny shacks with tin roofs perilously clinging to the hillside. The image reminded me that we all need connection and will go to various lengths to get it.
Connection is energizing and life giving. The path to that connection can be easy or convoluted. Sometimes we call a connection that seems to just happen a serendipity or a coincidence. Those who believe in God or a higher power see it at work. However we view the experience, we try to make meaning of it. We need connections that are meaningful in these disjointed times.
Evidence of lack of connection is all around us. Many have documented an epidemic of loneliness and isolation that persists even though the pandemic subsided. Suicide, depression and addiction plague people we know and love. Social media gives us more ways to connect but often drives us apart. Our social skills are rusty and ragged. Politics have divided our homes, families, friends and communities. Lack of genuine connection makes it harder to work well together to solve problems.
Another image I saw in Costa Rica gave me hope. These are called “walking trees” and were growing in the Lankester Botanical Gardens outside San Jose. Their botanical name is Socratea exorrhiza. They are a type of palm that grows in rainforests in Central and South America. Whether or not they actually “walk” is in the realm of myth but movement is documented. Their root systems are intertwined and are not as deep as other palms. Roots that do not get enough nutrition dry out and lift up and the other side of the plant sinks new ones down in a better environment. The palms grow in groves and move together. How far they move and in what timeframe is up for debate. They survive together because of their connection. Connection gives them the flexibility to adapt to a changing environment. Doesn’t that sound like something we all need?
A specific example of a meaningful adaptive connection appeared on the front page of the Sunday August 20, 2023 edition of the Jacksonville Florida Times Union newspaper. (Article by Beth Reese Cravey, “Initiative seeks tolerance not hate.”) The Jewish Community Alliance has joined with the First Coast YMCA to create an initiative called, “Together Against Hate: promoting unity in our community.” The lead photo (by Corey Perrine) featured the leaders of the two organizations clasping hands by the St. Johns River.
This effort arises from an increase in antisemitic messages projected onto Jacksonville locations in 2022 and earlier this year. (more info at jcajax.org/together-against-hate or fcymca.org/together-against-hate.) The Anti-Defamation League documented a 42% increase in antisemitic incidents in Florida from 2021 to 2022. In 2022, there were 27 documented incidents in Jacksonville. The two organizations have created a speaker series that will take place in various locations around Jacksonville over the coming year.
Other organizations have eagerly joined in the sponsorship of the effort because good connections create even more good connections. “It’s not about changing minds but getting people to understand differences. It doesn’t cost anything to be civil. We can disagree without being nasty,” said Eric Mann, CEO of the YMCA.
This kind of connection makes my heart sing. I will be going OTB (“over the bridge”) to listen and learn. If that is not for you, I hope you will seek out one of the fine organizations closer to home that offers you the opportunity to put down new roots.