On the Human Chains that Bind Us

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.  — Mahatma Gandhi

I’ll admit, recent events have tested my faith in humanity. I’d like to believe Gandhi’s words, but it’s difficult — when looking around at the events of today — not to question whether the very ocean of humanity is corrupt and polluted.

I’ve frankly never seen my country less in touch with its collective humanity. White supremacists are creeping out of the shadows and into the light of day; anti-immigrant fervor is at a pitch not seen since WWII; anti-refugee sentiment is as strong as it’s been in my lifetime. Anti-black, anti-Jew, anti-gay, anti-poor . . . you name it — it’s all out there, in full force, at levels I’ve never witnessed. It’s as if our nation’s heart is freezing over.

But now and again, something happens that gives me hope. For me, it’s been human chains. The first one I read about was two months ago, when a group of beachgoers in Panama City, Florida, formed a human chain in order to rescue a group of swimmers who were being swept out to sea by a riptide.

It’s so cool to see how we have our own lives and we’re constantly at a fast pace, but when somebody needs help, everybody drops everything and helps, Simmons said . . . [t]hat was really inspiring to see that we still have that . . . [w]ith everything going on in the world, we still have humanity. – Jessica Simmons, one of a couple who led the call for a human chain to assist the ocean-bound swimmers.

This week, I read two more “human chain” stories, both related to Hurricane Harvey in Texas. One involved a group of citizens who waded chest-deep into a flooded street to rescue an elderly man stranded in his truck in moving water. A second involved a group who made a chain to escort a pregnant woman in labor to a vehicle waiting outside her home, which would take her and her husband to the hospital.

All three stories were similar in nature: groups of ordinary people — no doubt with differing political and religious views, and of differing ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds — joining together to do the most human thing imaginable — to help other human beings in crisis. They did so, knowingly or unknowingly, by putting their differences aside, joining hands and arms togethers, and acting in collective service of a greater cause — in service of humanity.

Much has been written in recent months about reaching out to others to better understand their political beliefs. Perhaps there’s some validity in this — I don’t know. But I do know that people seem to be divided and entrenched in their political views — so much so, that I wonder if this approach is anything more than an exercise in futility.

But what if we tried something different? To put our political beliefs aside and simply reach our arms out to connect with each other as people, and to help each other out as best we can, for no other reason than it’s the best and most human thing we can possibly do?

Perhaps the chain that binds humanity is like an invisible rope — all too easily lost sight of, or jealously guarded as if some limited commodity — when in reality, it is ever-present, and infinite in its reach — and all we have to do is remember that it’s there, and to grab onto it and not let go.

It all makes me want to start a human chain — one without rules or litmus tests, and void of political speeches — just people of all stripes, locking arms in a gesture and recognition of our common humanity. And I’d like that chain to stretch around a whole city block, or even my entire city — and then to keep going, wrapping around other cities and states until it covered the entire country, ignoring the political pundits and naysayers and forces that would divide us, until we all showed the world how far we can reach if we simply put our differences aside and embrace our common humanity.

Who’s with me?

8 thoughts on “On the Human Chains that Bind Us”

  1. Lovely post, Tim. It reminded me of the old saying, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” and I realized that’s part of my current angst for our country. I want to live in a country where everyone (each of those links in that chain) is strong and vital and productive. Otherwise I could easily be the one swept away in the riptide.

    The other thought I had while reading your post has to do with the image of extending those arms. I wondered just what it is in me that is happening when I won’t extend vs when I will. All I could come up with was the word “trauma.” When our world is rocked, when we are traumatized, I was taught, humans tend to pull inward, even isolate to some degree. You’ve given me three good examples of human beings breaking that mold.

    Much to think about here, Tim. As usual. Thank you.

    1. Thanks much, Janet. As I read your response, another word came to me, which is “distrust.” We’ve been taught, it seems, to distrust one another. The degree to which this is justified versus the degree to which it has been cultivated and forced upon us, is a million-dollar question, I think. Perhaps in crisis situations, we simply don’t have time to allow our politics and fears and prejudices to hold back our inner humanity. I don’t know, but I like the idea of being innately, humanely connected somehow, even if we don’t always realize it. It gives me hope that we can re-connect as a society in meaningful ways.

  2. A loverly idea, Tim, Buster and I are with you, and we’ll try to keep your plan in mind as we throw in our “two cents!” Bus thinks he may have an answer to your “million-dollar question” mentioned in your response to Janet’s comments, recalling the line in a song in “South Pacific,” “…it must be carefully taught!”

    1. Thanks, Walt – ‘appreciate your comments. I’ll look forward to Buster’s answer to my “million dollar question.” I always loved South Pacific. Cheers! – T

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