I’ve been doing a lot of contemplation and reflection on palliative nurse Bronnie Ware’s 2009 viral post in which she listed the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. These are my reflections.
I am chagrined to say that lifelong community is something which I only recently have started to long for.
#4 I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
A Watcher on the Wall (or a Wall Flower)
An odd quirk about me is that up to this point in my life, I never seemed to really value friends and family. Or, at least not as intensely as most people I know seem to.
(But who knows? It could just be just them saying it to conform with societal norms.)
Part of it is environmental. When my family moved to the U.S., we did not move to a place with many Asians. So the community ties that often bind immigrants were not there for us.
Also, my parents are by nature extremely quiet, private people. This likely reflected the difficulties of leaving a country in the midst political and military upheaval. And their relationship with extended family was complicated and strained.
Then part of it is hereditary. Growing up, I loved reading history, particularly about classical Greece and Rome and then later European geopolitical history. I even might’ve become a historian – or at least a history professor – if money were not such a issue for my family.
I have a mild fantasy of taking trips on a space ship faster than the speed of light and returning every few years to see generations or centuries pass by on Earth.
(This is Einstein’s theory of relativity as depicted in the 2014 movie Interstellar and the second Ender book “Xenocide” by Orson Scott Card, who wrote “Ender’s Game”).
Like a stone skipping on the surface of a pond, I could be an objective observer. I could experience the expanse of human history. But without getting caught up in the narrowness of individual experience and sinking to the bottom.
But there is a negative side effect to this objectivity. As a result, my relationships are fleeting. People come and people go. This is especially true in high turnover cities like New York, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, where one can see 100% turnover in friends within 3-4 years (or less).
So why invest in such relationships if they will likely be gone?
Why become vulnerable with people who may remember your weaknesses and forget the friendship (and then proceed to gossip)?
So in this situation, only the closest relationships, those between parent and child and between spouses, have any lasting impact.
Recreating Epicurus’ Garden
Now that I have been blessed with breathing space, I’ve come to realize that strong community is an important and, unfortunately, missing component of my life.
When I look at the large expanse of 40-45 years remaining in my life, I know that it would be incredibly lonely. Even with a loving spouse and, hopefully, a child or two.
But what form should that take? And how does one decide on whom to become close to?
Traditionally, society structures point to extended family and civil/religious organizations. These can be as banal as sports teams and social clubs. Or as transcendental as churches (or mosques/synagogues) and volunteer organizations.
But I think these are too large and, in many cases, relationships of chance and convenience. Sort of like becoming good friends with your freshman year roommate in college. Very few people stay good friends after moving out.
I actually would like to look more closely at a model similar to Classical Greece, such as Epicurus’ Garden, or the monasteries of the early Christian Church.
I haven’t decided yet, but this will be a major factor in the next phase of my life.
What about you?
Do what do you think of the advantages and disadvantages of your own community?