Finally, it’s happened.
For the first time in a long time, I feel I have something to say. Or, rather, write. (I’ve had plenty to say over these past few months, but just haven’t figured out a way to articulate my words – to turn a bunch of concurrent, tangential thoughts into coherent, meaningful prose.)
But I feel differently now. And it’s all because of a conversation (which is, truly, the dawn of all great thinking).
Conversation and people – as my Grandma will attest – are two of my greatest joys in life. I seek out great conversation with opinionated and passionate people on a daily basis, and I have no doubt that it’s why I’m in the profession that I am in.
But deep and meaningful conversation – the kind of stuff that gets to the core of who we are as people and what brings us together? There’s not nearly enough of that. So when we have the opportunity to engage in that sort of conversation in a fulfilling way, we should take it. (And we should create the opportunity to have it too.)
It comes with a caveat, though: in order to go deep, you have to be vulnerable. In order to be vulnerable, you have to take risks. And you have to face the reality of rejection head on, which isn’t the most palatable concept, especially for most young people who have grown up in an environment that celebrates instant gratification and relationships of convenience.
To be vulnerable is to reveal our want to be seen for who and what we are; our need to be acknowledged for all we can be; and our readiness to accept the many possible outcomes of the future as they might unfold as a result of that vulnerability. To be vulnerable is to be human, and I think it’s becoming all too easy to forget the humanity of our relationships with other people.
In January, a handful of those dearest to me moved away to pursue incredible personal, professional and academic goals. At the same time, work was amping up and I was doing things I had only dreamed about months before. While that was all happening, my health was starting to deteriorate. I was trying to develop new relationships while mourning the loss of – or changes to – existing or former relationships, and finding such frustration in how far away some of my loved ones seemed and how difficult it felt to overcome that.
In May, I headed to New York City. It was my first holiday in a long time, and I had very few plans. My only commitments were to spend time with family and friends, experiences which were grounding, inspiring and affirming. The time, albeit short – in some cases less than 24 hours – was filled with meaningful chats and perfect, intentional stillness.
Then there were the strangers, or yet-to-be-friends: people I met, talked to, and felt deeply human connections with. There were doormen and waitresses, bartenders and train conductors, fellow bar patrons-turned-new friends. I treasure all of the conversations I had with those people, some which I continue to have. All serve as perfect reminders of the exquisite beauty of the human condition.
In July, I headed to Scotland for a brief conference where I met other young journalists from 42 countries around the world. I found kindred spirits and, after only 48 hours, new friends. Then, thanks to great planning, I was also able to catch up with one of my rocks.
Soon, it was back to Oz; to work; to the grind. And despite all of the achievements of the months prior, I felt exhausted and lonely. Why was I doing what I was doing, and why was I doing it here, if the people I yearned to celebrate the day-to-day with were there and there and there?
And that brings me to today. Because today I had an incredible conversation with one of the people I hold dearest to my heart. We talked and talked and talked and talked, and it still didn’t feel like enough. The international dateline may separate us, but distance shall not.
And today, I explained to that beautiful person my theory on human connection. It’s a theory that has guided me, for many years, in my understanding of the Universe and our place within it. It’s a theory I hold close during trials and tribulations, and one that I should’ve looked to more during these past difficult months.
All humans are composed of stars: atomically, metaphysically, metaphorically. Once, we orbited in space and we were joined in that orbit by other stars. Then we all fell to Earth. The people with whom, in this human life, we feel the deepest, most inexplicable connections with – whether immediate or over time – were stars on that same journey. The realisation of friendship, then, is the natural momentum of that celestial energy finding itself again.
Or so it goes.
It’s easy to feel lonely when your dearest aren’t your nearest. It’s easy to write off a great connection in a foreign city as a fortune of circumstance – and leave it at that. And it’s easy to let relationships dissipate because distance or time or phone tag keeps you apart.
But I’ve never been one for easy.
So, today I reached out to four people with whom I felt that warmth – new potential friends where there was a hint of that connectivity – and I put it all out on the line. I put it all out on the line because didn’t want to let circumstances define what those relationships could be, and because I didn’t want to let those people disappear. And I put it all out on the line because what is it to be here, to be human, if not to be vulnerable in finding our celestial sparks?
And I heard back.
With three, the feeling was mutual. With one, silence – no recognition, no response, nothing.
The immensity of those moments – waiting for recognition, acceptance, agreement, or dismissal – cannot be overstated. But, as a friend put it to me some years ago, “you have to risk it for the biscuit”.
All too often, we take our stars for granted or forget they’re there – or we don’t let ourselves risk finding them in the first place.
That risk is a gift: to challenge the concept of what friendship can be, how it can start and what brings people together – what potential! (And, surely, we can all afford to take a few more risks.)
It’s important to remember, however, that if risking-it-for-the-biscuit comes up blank, it’s not because our best isn’t good enough. Timing is everything, and sometimes the timing isn’t right. Sometimes, our orbits are a little out of sync. That’s okay too.
But when that risk returns a flicker? A sparkle? An “I feel the exact same way”? Well, the Universe is your oyster. The potential is endless, because you make it so.
This afternoon, after that conversation and all it led to, I felt anew. As a part of a generation that prides itself on the noncommittal – and has come to let surface level suffice for substance – one can feel guilty, and frustrated, for wanting something deeper. Rejection of that vulnerability (or the silence that suggests it) can feel devastating. Effort can seem pushy and overbearing when the crowd isn’t interested. When everyone else is content being quiet, explaining your feelings can sound like an unwanted, echoing shout into a deep, awkward abyss.
Or it could find you a star.
Distance and circumstances do not define us. We define us.
In the challenges we face unaided, we are not alone.
Sometimes we just have to look a little harder in the dark to find the sparks.
And sometimes, it’s up to us to light the match.