On multiple occasions on my podcast, I believe, and in other conversations, I have mentioned an idea described by Johann Hari in his Ted talk about addiction: the opposite of addiction is not sobriety — it’s connection. If you want to hear his explanation of that, you can do so here; however, I’m not writing this article to talk about addiction. Connection is my point in this. The value of human connection, specifically.
I write this with an entirely new perspective on that issue, with the passing of my wife, Lorraine, just over a month ago (Oct 25, 2019). Lorraine and I share a connection and a commitment to each other that I have seen in few other couples — let alone friendships or other relationships — in this world. During her mortality, we knew more than each other’s preferences, hobbies, hopes, dreams, testimonies, quirks, and such. We knew each other’s heart so well that on more than one occasion, we got about as close (I imagine) as anyone in this world can get to sharing feelings with each each other without actually opening our mouths. That has changed to a more direct form of spirit-to-spirit communication since she passed, and that certainly has its benefits (as it is easier than doing it from mortal to mortal), but I have learned a few things firsthand now that have helped me understand the value of human connection on an even deeper level.
Honestly, I don’t believe that it is possible to completely understand the full value of things like looking into the eyes of our loved ones, hearing their voices, and experiencing their hugs until those things are taken from us. This is from a journal entry of mine from Sep 2, 2019:
“To be totally honest, I really miss hearing Lorraine’s voice and getting her input on what I’m doing. She can look at me and focus on me, but with the emptiness of her expression, it just looks like she isn’t even understanding a word I’m saying. She can’t lift or even move her fingers, hands, arms, head, or neck. At the moment, all she can do is raise her eyebrows up and down. Sometimes I think she’s doing it to try and communicate, but once every few hours I will notice her doing it for no apparent reason whatsoever, so I’m trying to trust that Heavenly Father is in control and is in all of the final details from the recovery, especially since her most recent [priesthood] blessing she got said she would recover from this [non-verbal, barely responsive state]. But I won’t lie: it has been hard over the last 48 hours. After she opened her eyes a few days ago for the first time in almost a week, my gratitude for being at least able to look her in the eye[s] grew a lot. Now I just wish I could hear her voice again.”
I’m not sure whether it was more painful to have any ability to communicate with or understand Lorraine taken from me by means of illness or by means of death. A part of me thinks it’s easier in one way because now she can at least communicate with only my spiritual perception limitations as a barrier on her end, but another part of me feels like I would prefer to hear her voice and look into her eyes, even if that means there’s the barrier of mortal language and its limitations with spiritual connection. It’s kind of a happy and a sad trade-off. Either way, I know I’ll be overwhelmed with joy when I can have both of those kinds of connection in their fullness when Lorraine and I can reunite physically.
What I know for sure is that we frequently underestimate the value of deep, beautiful, meaningful, loving, nuanced, face-to-face connections with each other as mortals. In his autobiographical book The Message, Lance Richardson said the following:
“Some of the grandest experiences of my visit [to the Spirit World] were my opportunities to exchange greetings with others. Because in their world, they do not wave ‘hello’ or shake hands; they hug. A spirit can feel another spirit just as we feel flesh to flesh. And so they embrace one another. And when they embrace, an amazing experience occurs. It is as if each spirit can transfer a feeling and synopsis of their life to others. Suddenly one knows and understands another more deeply and thoroughly than could ever be possible through verbal communication. It creates an instant bond of closeness and friendship to build foundations for loving one another more perfectly. Oh, how I missed those hugs when I left.”
In another part of the book, that appreciation was manifested for a form of connection far more muffled by mortality. Lance was in a barely-conscious state, but heard his son — who didn’t know if Lance could hear him — talking about football. When the nurse told his son that he needed to leave for a while, he said, “Dad, I love you. And I am not going to let anything take you away. I promise! I don’t care what happens, I’ll keep you. OK, dad?” Lance was so overcome with emotion himself that he was actually able to cry a single tear, which ran down his cheek. His son’s response?
“‘Dad, we saw that! You cried, you cried!’ he shouted. ‘You really are there!’ Then he paused a moment again, knowing he had to leave. ‘Oh, Dad. I love you so much. Please come back to me.'”
Please, never underestimate any small sign of the beauty of human connection. It means more than you can possible imagine. Lorraine and I experienced almost all extremes of that spectrum, from being able to communicate almost clearly, spirit to spirit, to being limited to mere micromovements. Every last tiny piece of loving, deep connection between us is worth more to me than all the rest of God’s creation combined. It is supposed to be so, and I’m glad it is. God put that intense longing for connection in us and allows us to hurt when it is taken away because it teaches us its sacred, holy, and beautiful nature. It’s why things like charity, forgiveness, kindness, humility, faith, virtue, knowledge — feel free to recite the rest of D&C 4 if you wish — are so important: because they are all ways we can have those healthy connections with each other and with our Father in Heaven.
Nurture them, cherish them, desire them with everyone — and whatever you do, never underestimate them.
Paul served a mission in the then Canada Toronto West Mission and moved to Utah after living for ten years with his late wife, Lorraine, in Hamilton Ontario before her passing in 2019 and recently remarried in the Payson temple to his beloved Collette. He loves missionary work, piano, blogging (you can find his personal blog here!), deep spiritual conversations with friends, and hosting his podcast, Stepping Into Freedom. He can solve a 5x5x5 Rubik's cube, and puts a lot of time into gospel scholarship.