“How are you at home?”
“No, I mean with family and friends?”
“I don’t have many of those, but I have my books. You cannot find better friends then that.”
“But, you must have someone to share life with?”
“No, I had a cat once. But she died a couple of years ago.”
“So you are alone?”
“Can you get another cat or a dog?”
“No. Mangles, was the best cat and is irreplaceable.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
He was fifty, trim, dressed in baggy jeans and a shirt with grease marks on the elbows of his shirt. He was quiet with very little to say. His eyes sunk deep into the orbital cavities and a small upturned nose. He had thin frail hands with soft palms that had never seen hard labor. Mostly a hermit, he had lived his life in isolation. He lived in the isolation of his fears in a small hut by the countryside. He had just been diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis was good, the disease isolated and in its infancy. Surgery would render it curable. The future was bright for him.
And yet two months later he was dead.
In our simplified version of the world where cause and effect are the inimitable values we place on ourselves as solvers of great riddles; we become believers in our own fairy tales.
There was more to this loss then meets the eye.
The shimmering link that creates and molds our lives is also the same link that strengthens us or destroys us. The sense of closeness and togetherness is the sense that delivers us from isolation. Bereft of this link, our internal mechanism finds chaos and entropy.
Mammals have the limbic neural network within their brains that longs for attachment to resonate with another. The closeness between two mammals gives the rite for thriving. A pair of swans, a man and a dog, a husband and wife, a pair of lovers, a girl and her cat, all such pairings have the inexorable continence of defeating.
Children deprived of their mothers love, affection, proximity, coddling, renders them into despairing individuals that live abbreviated lives. In fact monkeys deprived of their maternal attachment become isolationists and act out in rude, aggressive behavior without knowing the bounds of when to lay down arms; they sometimes will fight to the end. Rats deprived of their maternal bliss will fail to thrive and die prematurely just as their human counterparts.
This connection is more than holding hands. It is the tinkering within the neural circuitry of the brain that undergoes modulation to liberate various hormones, immune humors and cytokines to fortify its defense. I don’t mean to reduce it to a chemical armory, but there is truth in that. The brain is plastic. It is reshaped by the events that precede it.
The epigenetics that control the DNA modulation and explicated activity also control the brain growth. The human link is the strongest armament against outside threats. A loner will not survive against the vicissitudes of the world and its many inflated evils. The human touch is like a shield against the whips and scorns. Love is the protection against the slings and arrows.
Survival is guaranteed to those that live in togetherness. Religion by virtue of its sense of belonging advocates the strength in numbers, as does a close-knit society. Togetherness is all. We are to each other the existential pillars of support.
Romeo in his pleadings to Friar Laurence:
“And say'st thou yet that exile is not death?
Hadst thou no poison mix'd, no sharp-ground knife,
No sudden mean of death, though ne'er so mean,
But 'banished' to kill me?—'banished'?
O friar, the damned use that word in hell;
Howlings attend it: how hast thou the heart,
Being a divine, a ghostly confessor,
A sin-absolver, and my friend profess'd,
To mangle me with that word 'banished'?
I'll give thee armour to keep off that word:
Adversity's sweet milk, philosophy,
To comfort thee, though thou art banished.
Yet 'banished'? Hang up philosophy!
Unless philosophy can make a Juliet,
Displant a town, reverse a prince's doom,
It helps not, it prevails not: talk no more
The hurt is plain to see. Romeo’s banishment is like death to him. No words of living life without his Juliet are enough to supplant the terror of being without her. He sees death without her. Life is not worth living. Romeo’s love for Juliet is the guiding light, the spark, and the consummate eternal focus of his being. Without it he is no more.
Humans need this fondness for one another, this togetherness for survival. Without such, lives are scattered to the ache of longing and thence to the dust of antiquity and the ruins of mortality.
We as humans thrive in the presence of others. We yearn for praise, for honor and ultimately for acceptance from another. It is in this acceptance we derive the benefits of togetherness, of that link of survival and growth. This link of love makes us thrive and grow as a person, while isolation makes us wither into a Kaczynski or a Hannibal.
Death comes to all. Yet the link of love wards it away for as long as it can till the battered countenance of our fragile being is dissolved. Our human links give us the will to survive. Our love makes us grow.
Mary Ainsworth a Canadian psychologist determined the security and insecurity of a child is directly dependent on the mother's direct involvement with her child. The aloofness creates the insecurity that damages the future for the child.
Patients with cancer without a support structure have lived abbreviated lives in spite of all available resources while on the flip side those with the most abject horribleness of disease-ridden bodies have survived longer with love then chance or statistics with probabilities would have earmarked for them. Outliers both! Cancer patients need the support structure that they themselves can foster. No outside support is needed. No outside help is required. Just link and love and the strength of survival will come from within the blossoming warmth of another.
That patient died because he had lost his cat “Mangles.” The will to survive and the strength of connection had been lost for him. He had been banished from the kingdom of his comfort. His only connection to life had been in the form of a cat.
So it is for all of us to create a large repository of friendship, of connections, of togetherness, of support, of belonging so that we can survive the arduous and the arcane life-limiting battles that time can throw at us.
Yes, Link to Love and Love to Link! Our survival depends on it!