Sharp Edges

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca

What a difference a day makes!

On Sunday May 31 my daughter called after church, to say that she might have found me a dog. She worries about me living alone since my wife died. Especially when COVID-19 isolation restricts me from visiting others, or having them visit me.

By 3 that afternoon, I had a dog.

After three months of isolation, I feel like a February groundhog emerging into the brightness of a new day.

I am no longer alone.

I have someone who needs me.

What a difference a dog makes.

The experience of the last two weeks confirms my conviction that we humans are social beings. Deprived of social relationships, we become a little less human.

That’s why nations all around the world have condemned solitary confinement as “cruel and inhumane punishment”— even if some of them still practice it. Because being solitary runs counter to our basic human nature.

We humans were never solitary creatures. From our hunter-gatherer beginnings, we formed clusters. Communities. A single bi-ped hunter couldn’t run down a rabbit, let alone a deer. Couldn’t drive off an elephant.

But together, humans could.

Nothing wrong with solitude. I need it too, sometimes. But I would go so far as to argue that a truly solitary person is human only in the sense of having a human body.

When we can’t associate with other humans, we build relationships with animals. Even with plants.

Remember Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves? A lonely man and a lonely animal needed each other.

Now, I won’t suggest that I was as isolated as Costner’s character in the movie — alone, at an abandoned fort, where no one even knew he was there. I don’t take kindly to authority — social, medical, or theological— so while I honoured the principle of COVID-19 separation, I did an occasional end run around the details.

I stayed safe. But I didn’t always stay home. I went for walks. I chatted with anyone I met, at a safe distance. I did a lot of talking on the telephone.

And like everyone else, I stared at postage-stamp-sized faces on Zoom screens.

Zoom is better than no contact at all, but it’s no substitute for meeting in person. I can’t touch a hand. Cry on someone’s shoulder. Feel the warmth of a hug.

And I doubt if anyone will ever fall in love via Zoom.

Isolation was a two-edged sword. It saved lives; it destroyed lives.

Two stories surface for me.

A friend’s father once managed the CNR line across northern Ontario. After he retired, a new bank teller requested identification. As he handed it over, he commented, “I used to be somebody, once.”

The other story appeared in the New York Times, about B.C.’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. At a clinic she ran in San Diego, an armed man burst in, distraught, waving a gun, demanding to speak to somebody.

Dr. Henry quietly stepped out. “I’m somebody,” she said. “Let’s talk.”

They did. And they resolved his problem.

Conversation is the foundation of being somebody.

We all search for intimacy. At least I do — although I’m sure some people are afraid of intimacy, and want to keep every conversation on a safely superficial level.

Intimacy usually gets treated as sexual intimacy. For men, entering someone else’s body; for women, I guess, allowing someone else inside your body.

But there’s more to intimacy than sex. Intimacy involves letting someone else into thoughts, your emotions, your experiences. When — if only for a few seconds — two become one.

Indeed, to get philosophical about this subject, it seems to me that intimacy is the way in which we attempt to transcend the limitations of being individuals.

Arthur Koestler coined the term “holon;” Ken Wilber popularized it. Both describe it as a universal pattern.

An electron is part of a molecule, is part of an atom, is part of an element, is part of a chemical compound. A cell is part of a body, is part of a species, is part of a phylum. A planet is part of a solar system, is part of a galaxy. Everything is part of something bigger.

Sentient beings, uniquely, want to be, need to be, part of something bigger.

That’s why we need relationships. Why we need to belong. To something. Or to someone.

Relationships make us what we are, and what we can be.

And I now have a relationship with a dog named Pippin.

What a difference a day makes!

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca