Connection. It fuels us.
There’s been much talk nowadays of ‘leaning in’. Women should ‘lean in’ to the workplace, show up, show commitment, and prioritise our career. The fabulous Nancy Fraser rightly points out, however, that in order to lean in we have to ‘lean on’ somebody else – often low paid women or our partner or wider family – to do the stuff of house and childrearing.
But I’ve been thinking a lot since attending and speaking at the Feminism in London Conference about the need to lean in to life and love. And it started on the journey home on the Sunday evening from London.
Walking along the Tube platform I noticed an elderly couple. The woman was on the train, and, through the open doors, she was holding the hands of a man. They were gazing at each other. The emotion in both their faces was palpable. Something was being said between them, unspoken.
I was quite struck. I wondered what their journey was. Among the busyness of the environment, there was a real tenderness shared between these two people. A few steps later and, next to the steps down to the line I needed, I saw a younger couple kissing and holding each other, gazing into each other’s eyes then a gentle kiss, and the hands around the face and shoulders, and not caring what was going on around them.
It really left an impression and I couldn’t shake off what I had seen, in such quick succession, in a place usually brutally impersonal and hurried.
So on my return to my destination, and walking along the concourse to get home to my family, I again smiled as I saw a couple walking along, then stopping to kiss.
But this conveyor-belt of love and shared lives, human gentleness and companionship was shaken as I continued walking and saw Caroline* in the corner of the station, sitting, alone, on the bench, scruffy as usual in a woolly hat, staring at the floor. Her surviving ‘baby’, her dog, her ‘daughter’ at her feet. Only, now, this dog is without her sibling. For Caroline has recently lost a daughter.
I see Caroline regularly, on the bus or in the bus station, usually feeding the pigeons, sitting with her dog and living a life of isolation and mental illness. She has talked to me of her babies – sometimes the dogs, sometimes the birds. We often say hello. My children greet her as though she is a neighbour.
I felt ashamed that on the evening when I had seen episodes of striking human connection, I couldn’t bear to stop my feet and miss my children’s bed time as I had the day before. I did not stop, offer a word to a mother who was grieving the loss of one of her children, the most shaggy and gentle dogs you could see.
Poverty, whilst so often spoken of as an economic issue, can be the isolation of the many people in our country who have nobody, or who experience a mental illness which shapes their isolation, or those who live alone, unknown and unloved.
Support, care, family and family time, so often spoken of as a luxury, are as important as food and money for the bills for a rich life.
And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the imagery of that night. Of intimacy, of affection, of sexuality, of love, of humanity, loss and isolation; and the sight of joy and excitement in my children when I arrived home. I am grateful for that.
It reminds me that a political system and ideology which forgets humanity and reduces us to economic units is not our servant. It is our master.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/38912465@N00/16694809298″>Let me tell you about the birds and the bees.</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
*Caroline is not her real name