One Cast, Many Connections

“What unites us is far greater than what divides us.”

John F. Kennedy spoke the words above in a 1961 address to the Canadian Parliament, in the context of affirming the historically positive nature of the relationship between the United States of which he was the president and its northern neighbor of which he was a guest.

Bill Clinton frequently cited these words in his speeches during the 2012 presidential campaign, in the context of countering the increasingly histrionic negative nature of the discourse between the opposing sides in our national elections.

On a far more personal and local level during the past few weeks, I have come to appreciate the truth of these words in an entirely different context.

It began with an accident.  Out for my usual early-morning run on a clear, sunny morning in late January, I slipped on a patch of black ice left behind by a freezing rain the night before, and fell very fast and very hard.  I landed full-force on my left elbow, and shattered the radial head bone at the joint.

{Note to self, and other early-AM runners:  Do not be lulled into complacency by blue skies and warming temperatures in the morning.  Remember the weather conditions from the night before!}

After getting up and getting back home, I spent the better part of the next few days making trips to the emergency room, to the orthopedist, to the radiology clinic, and to the ambulatory surgery center.  And I’ve spent the entire part of the last four weeks going about my usual activities with my left arm in a cast.

Which is where the story of this post really begins.

Not a single day has gone by since I donned my cast that I have not had at least one conversation with someone – usually a random passerby in a store or on the street, someone I don’t know at all  – who not only wants to express sympathy for my injury, but also very much wants to tell me about a similar injury they or one of their loved ones has endured.

And although my biggest frustration with my injury was the way doing everything with only one good hand was slowing me down, causing me to “lose time” and fall behind schedule on my various projects, I never once minded the time these constant pauses to chat with people was taking.

Their stories were uniformly compelling, and after the first week or so, each time I set forth on some errand or outing, I found myself anticipating the next random encounter.  After the second week or so, every time I started feeling frustrated with the limitations imposed by my cast, I found myself remembering the most recent stories I had been told, and forgetting about my own trifling woes.  And now – three weeks after my surgery and a few days out of my cast – I’ve become aware of an unexpected sense of ease about my accident and its subsequent inconveniences, especially all that “lost time”.

I would love to attribute this newfound sense of acceptance to my Buddhist-inspired aspiration to be with life as it is rather than how I wish it would be – but I know much better than to try to get away with that!  No, this sense of peace that I’m feeling on the inside has come from all those random connections I made on the outside, walking around with that cast on my arm.

As I reflect on all the people I’ve spoken with this past month, it occurs to me how little we each knew about the other as we shared our intimate tales of injury and pain.  In most cases, I knew nothing at all about my conversational partner’s political preferences, religious convictions, or ethical values – nor did they know anything of mine.  None of those things – which usually separate us into opposing sides – mattered.  In the moment, even if only for that moment, we were connected in a truly authentic way.

How did that happen?  I suspect it was the result of what my cast evoked in us – a shared sense of how frail we all are, how prone to injury, how susceptible to pain.  Something we all know, something we all have in common.  Something that calls out to us for connection.

What unites us is far greater than what divides us.


About Tom Cummings

A life-long news and current events junkie, an occasional political activist and volunteer, and for the past five years a practitioner of daily meditation and a student of Buddhist philosophy, I write this blog to explore what I see as the inherent tensions and contradictions between practicing mindfulness - so rooted in the Buddhist virtues of compassion, generosity, and non-attachment to self - and being an engaged citizen in today's world - where the very opposite traits are all too often the ones that prevail.
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4 Responses to One Cast, Many Connections

  1. That’s lovely, Tom! Love the title!

    I think the way you break what could be your large-chunk ‘aspirations’ down into a range of specific small-chunk relational behaviours is a really good lesson. Too often, I think, we get submerged by the abstractions (which are all very well in their own way) and miss the tiny things that build towards abstraction. Thanks for this! Glad you’re on the mend.



  2. The Commonzense of Saint James says:

    Hey thanks for the follow. “No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place.” -Peace


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