The Power of Connection by
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(23 Stories)

Prompted By Reconnecting

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Connection is the lifeblood of civilization, I think. It has become more apparent in the past year when we have been so separated from one another because of the pandemic. Loneliness, grief, depression have made life all but intolerable for so many of us.

I am someone who enjoys her own company, but I do need touch points with others. I live in a high rise building in Oakland, California with beautiful 180 degree views of Lake Merritt and the city. There are 100 or so units in the building. I’ve lived here for 22 years during which I had pretty much kept to myself except for the neighbors I ran into in the gym. I saw clients during the day in one unit, and came home, across the hall, at the end of the day to enjoy my solitude, sitting on my couch looking out the windows. A pretty sweet commute.

When I retired a couple of years ago, I started to realize that it was pretty odd to live somewhere for this long and to not know the names of more than a handful of my neighbors. I’d say hi to people in the elevator and they to me, but I didn’t really know them, or their names. A few months before the pandemic hit, I was moved to start a women’s group for women over 60 in my building. I sent an email out and received tremendous response. Over 40 women wanted to connect! They, too, were looking for community. Here we were living so close and yet we were strangers to one another. So we started meeting in person in the Club Room, sharing our stories, many of which were fascinating. I started getting thank you letters daily in my inbox. People felt less alone. When the pandemic hit, we moved our meetings to Zoom. I became known as ‘The Convener.’ From that group, a book group evolved, and a political action group. We reached out to one another for check-ins. We wrote thousands of postcards last year to get voters out to vote. We raised a nice chunk of money to go to a project that helps previously-incarcerated women with children find housing. The men in the building started making noises about being left out and wanting to start their own group. All in all it’s been very satisfying.

Still, the most important connections for me, my lifeblood, are the ones that have lasted over the years. My daughter and grandsons, of course, who are waiting out the pandemic in Israel. My high school friends who I visit every summer for a month in New Hampshire. And my very closest high school friend, Jane, who lives in upstate New York. If we don’t talk for an hour every few days we both begin to fade. My mother used to ask me what we could possibly have to talk about after being together all day after school. The other day Jane and I were trying to define our special friendship. She said, “The way I see it, nothing in our lives is ever complete until we have shared it with each other.” That is a special connection.

Profile photo of Penny K Penny Righthand


Characterizations: been there, well written

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    Penny, what a lot of wonderful connections you have made! I love that you got a women’s group started in your building. I expected you to say you put up notices in the elevators, but apparently you had email addresses for everyone? Or there was a building-wide email list you could post to?

    It doesn’t sound as if there is anyone that you lost your connection with and then had to reconnect, the way the rest of us have. Good for you for keeping those connections alive!

    • Oh, Suzy…there are those I have lost and regained connection with. And some I’ve lost completely. Sometimes I wonder why I still want to reach those people. Some to say I’m sorry to, some to say, what happened to us? But I’m fortunate to have those I have. They are very special.
      And as for the email list…I asked the building manager. He sent an email to everyone asking if they would be ok with me contacting them. Then he gave me the list. I hope you can make use of that information, if you so choose.
      Take care

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    A perfect way to describe community, Penny. You have really made such a difference in so many people’s lives. But the best is your friendship with Jane. I absolutely love what Jane said about your special relationship, “The way I see it, nothing is ever complete unless we have shared it with each other.” That is, indeed, a special connection. You are so fortunate to still have that in your life, even if you cannot see her in person right now. This, too, shall pass.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    I love your definition of special friendship, Penny. I have a few friends that fit that description perfectly. My husband wonders what we have left to talk about, but it’s all in the sharing. What a wonderful thing you did in connecting the women in your building. You did a great thing for so many people, especially now when we are feeling isolated.

  4. Penny, you’re a girl after my own heart!
    I’ve done many of the bringing-together things you’ve done among my old colleagues, my big-city and my country neighbors, and my childhood friends.

    You’re so right, that’s what life in this sometimes very sorry world is all about. The author EM Forster famously said ONLY CONNECT!

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    Thanks for this inspiring story. I lived in Oakland for many years and can picture your view out to Lake Merritt—it is wonderful place. Good on you for becoming the “convener”—you probably helped a lot of people even more than you know.

    • Thanks, Khati. I hope I helped a few people. It definitely helped me!
      Oakland has changed a lot, and sadly, it’s in a terrible way right now. We have a serious homeless problem, shops are boarded up and graffitied, and crime is worse than ever. It makes me really sad. I’ve lived here since 1976 and I’ve watched the city blossom and now, rot. It feels awful, TBH. I’m trying to get involved to get things improved but it isn’t easy. You were lucky to live here when it was better.

  6. Marian says:

    Love this, Penny, how true. I’m so glad your group was formed and the women connected. You can probably wave hello to my mother, who lives on the 16th floor of St. Paul’s Towers off the Grand Avenue side of the lake. I miss seeing her, as she misses socializing with her friends in the building. Thank goodness for Zoom.

  7. Penny, this is such an inspiring story! I have a dear friend who lives in a condo that sounds a lot like yours, although hers is three towers and about 600 units! Her husband passed not too long ago, and although she also enjoys her own company and does have a few friends there, she’s got the perfect personality to do just what you did to make some more. I will definitely be sharing your wonderful story with her!

    I love your anecdote about your mother wondering what you and your BFF could possibly have to talk about after being together all day at school. My mother would ask the exact same thing…my BFF and I just passed the 50-year mark and never run out of things to talk about…and still, for hours!

  8. Khati Hendry says:

    Penny, the news from Oakland is sad indeed, but your actions make a difference. I worked at La Clinica de la Raza from 1980 to 2003, and it was a wondrous place—and the Festival at the Lake and Day of the Dead gatherings were multicultural delights. My niece lives not far from Lake Merritt now and is a social worker, and struggles. I have to believe there will be an Oakland renaissance yet.

  9. Marian says:

    How sweet of you, Penny, to think of my mom. Her place doesn’t allow visitors yet. She had her first shot and will have her second next week. There is talk about outdoor visits starting in April, and by that time I will have had my second shot and can drive up. I live in Santa Clara and talk with my mom on the phone almost every day. Glad you felt good after the vaccine. I had my Moderna shot and felt not very good for two days, but I expected that because my immune system tends to be overactive. I am taking at least two days off after the second!

  10. Good for you for being the “convener” and making a space for so many other older women to overcome their isolation–and motivating men to want the same. I could really picture myself in your building, if my circumstances were different, and wishing for the same.
    On the other hand, i’ve never had a “best friend” that I wanted to share everything with. It sounds like something out of a movie or a novel, but it sounds marvelous!

    P.S. My story this week and yours sort of pass each other on the 101, like ships in the night (or cars).

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