Life is not solitary confinement

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

Aristotle was the first to recognize that humans are social animals and write about it. He who lives without society, he said, is either beast or God. There are about 7.2 billion of us scattered across the planet. So even if you have lots and lots of Facebook friends, you will cross paths with only a tiny fraction of our species.

Our sociality is essential to our existence. It is like food, clothing and shelter. Without regular interaction with others of our own kind, we will die. I'm pretty sure hermits and misanthropes live much shorter lives than the rest of us. It's why solitary confinement is used to torture or punish people.

At Thanksgiving we try to make sure there is a place for everyone at a table to celebrate and remember kith and kin. The food and football are nothing compared to family and friends. Being alone at Thanksgiving or Christmas has to be one of the saddest things imaginable.

So I have been thinking about all the people who have crossed my path.

There is, of course, my family — current and deceased. They are my roots and anchor.

But I'm not talking about them. Blood is its own category. I'm talking about all the people who pass you by on life's journey.

Childhood friends, like one Phil Jones who was my best friend in seventh grade. I remember his name, but I have no idea what happened to him. There are a few childhood friends with whom I am still close. They knew me before I was me.

Work friends, with whom I shared much while practicing law, but then I retired and most of them faded, and then, poof, they were gone. I could have, maybe should have, kept up with them but didn't. Sad. Kind of.

Old friends are awesome. I've vacationed with and had bi-monthly dinner with the same group of Oak Parkers for 40 years. I am still in regular contact with people I met when our children played T-ball. We have been on the same boat sailing the same river of life for a long time. Not many secrets from them.

Then there are new friends. I really never thought I would need or want new friends, so it has been a great and unexpected joy to connect with people through my philosophy class and Marsha's church.

Then there are the 5 a.m. exercisers at the YMCA, the guys selling Streetwise at Starbucks, the Supercut ladies, the waiter at Hemmingway's and many more. I don't know them, but I know them enough to like them. I look forward to our episodic interactions. They add texture and nuance to my life.

Finally, there was the guide on the Isle of Skye, the French couple in Paris, Nick's surgeon — people I met only once, whom I will remember forever.

Our lives are shaped by the accumulated experiences of connection with our species. 

We are who we meet.

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