When did you last have a no-holds-barred conversation with a fellow human?
How about the last unhurried hug you shared with a relative, a lover, a friend, or maybe even a stranger?
Do you sit down for dinner every night or do you mindlessly shovel junk food into your mouth because feeding is yet another task to be dealt with?
Even if you eat alone, preparing a healthful meal needn’t take long and setting the table for one can be an act of self-love if you put some thought into it.
Why not be the person you wish you could spend some quality time with and then do exactly that?
When I’m home in the US, I arrange my dinner into small bowls on a pretty tray and select suitable reading companionship because there’s no one to converse with.
To say that I eat alone wouldn’t be quite accurate though.
Trudeau, my tuxedo cat, always plops onto the chair next to mine and oversees human feeding proceedings. He does so selflessly, too, because there’s no plant on my plate that ever appeals to his exclusively carnivorous tastes.
Stateside, mine is a very isolated life in a house on top of a steep hill in an area underserved by public transportation. I work remotely, I do not have a driver’s license, and because major depressive disorder felled me almost as soon as I immigrated, I do not have a social network to speak of either.
But here in Europe, life plays out so differently it is the complete antithesis of how I survived from 2013 onwards on the other side of the Atlantic.
Attention is the gift my loved ones and I bestow upon one another freely and frequently.
When in Paris with my parents, we make a point of taking the time to have dinner together every night to catch up. Even when we’ve all spent the day at home on different pursuits, around the table is where we meet, rest, and regroup.
Because our daily reality is that of my stepmom’s Stage IV cancer, our conversations are wont to meander and take unexpected turns. We have, on occasions, ended up in tears and I’ve no doubt we will again because the distress within needs to come out otherwise it’ll crush us all.
My stepmom is always worried about her illness dragging everyone else down so the fight to get her to focus on self-expression is an ongoing and necessary one.
And when words fail us, a hug always articulates everything they cannot.
The same applies here in Amsterdam.
Although I currently live out of a suitcase called home, the hearts of loved ones make me feel I belong here, among them.
Through every conversation, every dinner, and every hug, we reaffirm our commitment to one another; we strengthen our bonds by sharing our respective experiences of what it means to be a human in the world.
We love together, we dream together, we create together, and sometimes we even cook together; we genuinely relish one another’s company.
This is what it means to live together and not just side by side.
Do you expedite human interactions?
When someone needs to talk, do you listen with a distracted ear or even turn away because you’re in a rush, don’t care, or just can’t be bothered?
When you’re going somewhere, do you take in your surroundings or just move forward in robot mode?
When was the last time you stood by the window at home and let your thoughts run free?
While it’s easy to blame tech for all our ills and social shortcomings, no one is making you stare at that smartphone.
No one is making you binge-watch that show. No one is forcing you to inhale yet another online listicle that’ll numb your brain a little more.
Be it online or offline, communing with fellow humans can happen in myriad ways and is vital to our wellbeing and sense of self.
And yet, how often do we focus on just about anything else at the expense of those around us?
Making those you share your life with feel invisible or being invisible to them is soul-destroying.
Alas, it’s so common we’re not always aware of it.
The hallmark of a life well-lived isn’t a paycheck or material trappings but the love we co-create.
While those of us who have suffered at the hands of others might turn to materialism for comfort, designer shoes can’t hold your hand or hug you. And no matter how satisfying the presence of lovingly chosen inanimate objects, they can’t listen to you pour your heart out or offer insightful feedback.
Pets sometimes can but they don’t speak, which is the reason why Trudeau’s head butts and licks and whisker tickles can never soothe me the way a hug can. Much as we love each other, our bond is strictly non-verbal and that can never be enough for me.
We humans are a social species endowed with hearts and minds that work best in tandem. Focus on one at the expense of the other and life is askew; it doesn’t quite work.
Living in our heads may have become the default for many of us but we cannot let this prevent us from going out into the world.
Be it as pixels and data packets or as arms holding another body tight, forging and nurturing meaningful connections is what life is about.
But it can’t happen if we’re always mentally elsewhere, if we don’t take the time to be, or if we don’t cherish our shared humanness.
I’m a French-American writer and journalist living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.