cathy-connections-fullcathy-headshotBy Cathy Hird

The word between calls to mind the network between people, the links that connect places or things. Two people are connected by blood ties, by where they live, by the tasks they taken on together and activities shared. Two places are linked by the road between them. Wires connect telephones.

Each of us could draw a web of inter-connection for ourselves. Some links we choose, such as who we will marry, and some are given, like who our parents are. Some are visible, such as the uniform that soldiers wear. Some connections are only known when we share our story.

Connections are not all tangible. Things that have the same purpose are placed together, in the house or in our minds. The hammer, screwdriver and drill all sit on the workbench. People are connected who shared the same dream or purpose.

Some connections are strong. A chain that loops through two sides of a gate keeps that gate tightly closed. Some connections are tenuous. Our connection to the beginning of the First World war has thinned with the passage of time, with the passing of those who remember the battles, with the mist that masks the causes of the conflict. We remember it happened at times like Remembrance Day, but we have a stronger sense of connection to more recent conflicts.

We claim the world is a small place and getting smaller because we can travel anywhere within a day, we can talk to any country right now. But when we hear news from a very different culture or place, our connection feels tenuous because we do not understand the causes and the consequences. We are not sure how it matters to us or what we can do about it.

Connections draw us together, but a network of linkages can also keep people and things apart. When the road we usually take turns past a community, we keep driving around it. When there is no road to a waterfall, we may wish we could see it, but we will visit the accessible ones.

In the old Sesame Street TV show, there was a segment that used the song "One of these things is not like the other; one of these things just doesn't belong." The connection between the things that fit could be colour or use or type of thing. The white egg in a case of brown ones did not belong. The number in a set of letters did not belong.

I can see the educational purpose of the game, but as I looked on Google to remind myself of how it worked, I was struck by the way one creature or thing did not fit in. Being different probably did not matter to the mongoose who was standing rather than crouching, but the boy who was dressed for football rather than baseball was left out of the game.

One of the pictures I found had cookie monster looking at three plates with two cookies on them and a fourth plate with three. I do not remember the segment, but I can imagine that cookie monster did not have any trouble solving this difference: he would munch up the extra cookie in a second.

Most times when there is no connection it is harder to solve than that. But sometimes surprising ties can develop. When we first went to South Africa in 1996, we found that many people who lived in the black townships did not have phones at home. The only way to contact them was at their workplace. When we went back in 2000, the same people had cell phones. Land lines were not going to be built into every corner of Soweto but there was no longer a need. Technology provided a bypass that enabled connection.

We tend to assume that the web of connection we have is what is. But it is worth noticing the spaces, the places where there is no connection. Who is left out? I invite us all to take a moment to notice the answer to that question in our lives. When we notice who our network excludes, we can draw new lines, extend our connections, fill in the gaps.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.



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