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  • Jacqueline Le Sueur

Just 6 Weeks Less-Abled : S22 & 23 | Connected yet Isolated - the modern dichotomy

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

This is the view from the bench at the end of the street. It is a wonderful escape from the house even though it is not far away.

I was sitting here yesterday morning when something happened that gave me so much pause for thought I have been ruminating on it since hence not writing here yesterday. I needed to think and process.

More about the bench in a moment.

Tim Berners-Lee gifted the world with an incredible thing when he made the software for what we now call the internet and gave it free to all. Through it and the wonders of wifi and 3/4G we are connected to the world if we have a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Or are we?

I awoke yesterday feeling very down in the dumps. Physically better than I have been for the entire 3 weeks since the Scalpel Man sliced & diced me. A definite corner turned there. With respect to my mental health it was without a doubt the lowest start to the day. No visitors scheduled until the end of the coming week. Already 48 hours since I had had a conversation, the brief hello to the dog walker the previous day not counting on that front. No idea when I might have one. I felt more able yet more isolated than I have in 3 weeks.

"Be the change you want to see in the world," said Gandhi. So first things first, me and the Limbo had a disco bath.

Sounds daft I know but the effort involved in bathing instead of showering coupled with the sheer childlike fun of my bath disco light took my mind off things for half an hour. It made me smile just a teeny bit that at the age of 58 years young I still find such joy in something designed for kids.

After brekkie I put a post on Facebook sharing my predicament and started messaging friends to see if I could secure a couple of visitors. I find it remarkably hard asking ... for anything. This goes way back into my childhood. I am scared to ask in case I am told 'no'. It feels like rejection and yet I know it is not. I also know from past experience that once you are into your mid to late period of post-op recovery visitors fall away. They are busy people leading busy lives, I know and respect this. I did reach out though and as a result I had a lovely unexpected visit from a friend yesterday afternoon and another is picking me up next Saturday and we are going into the nearest small town for breakfast. And I may be picked up by another friend in the week for an adventure out for lunch if she has time.

I felt so much brighter knowing this ... having something other than my own company to look forward to in the coming days.

As my mood lifted so did the clouds and I could make my morning foray to the bench at the end of the street. I was hopeful that I might see someone I could share a few words with. And I did. My neighbour and her son on their way out in their car. It was lovely to see them and have a chat. Then a dog walker came up the main street, walking towards me. Someone else to say hello to thought I. However, he stopped at the kerb, looked directly at me and changed his tack. Instead of crossing over the road as planned, which would have brought him right to me, he crossed over the main street to where there is no pavement and walked swiftly past, his face turned to the hedge. I called out a friendly greeting anyway. He ignored me, picked up speed and walked past. He crossed back on to the pavement once he had gone past the bench - and me.

Now, I know I am not dressed in my finery at the moment as there are only limited things I can get over my cast. And yes, I am wearing weird shoes. And yes, I have crutches with me. And yes I am wrapped up really well against the cold. But do I really look that off putting that it warrants crossing the road?

I am glad I came out to the bench once I had made the effort to lift my spirits. Such an overt snub to my friendly overture would have been a real knock back mentally and emotionally if I hadn't. It may not have been meant as a snub but that is how it felt. No such thing as a common reality, only the lens of individual perception, eh.

I sat and pondered this man's actions. I wonder if he had any realisation of how much a smile and and exchange of words would have meant to this strange lady sitting on the bench? Did he wonder what my story was or did he simply make a split second judgment about me as is human wont? Was he just really rude and unfriendly or was there a deeper reason to his not wanting to engage with me? A lover's tiff, a recent bereavement, trouble at work?

We just never know, do we.

Which then got me to thinking about the internet and social media. It is a godsend being able to stay in touch with my friends all over the world through Facebook. It is fantastic now whilst I am less-abled: On the one hand it really does reduce the feeling of isolation as I can post and people 'like' and some take the time to comment giving the opportunity for a brief digital interaction. I send messages via a number of different means to friends and sometimes they message me, occasionally leading to a brief, real-time flurry of words that are so wonderful to have.

On the other hand it increases my isolation hugely. I see all these events being listed in my timeline that I usually go to at this time of year and would love to go to and yet can't because even though I feel confident enough with my foot to face the world for short periods I can't get anywhere without someone talking me. It is frustrating, as is seeing my friends having fun evenings out with friends and family, on the beach or in the pub.

In the spirit of changing my world I took that latter to hand as I called my village pub when I got home and asked if they could do me an extra special favour ... they did ... scampi and chips and my favourite cider delivered to my front door with a smile, fully plated and the cider icy cold.

I love scampi and chips and I love this cider however neither has ever tasted so good as this. Why? Because I reached out to my local 'community' and they helped in a heartbeat proving to me that I just have to ask. It's ok to ask. Even though the pub was gearing up for a busy lunchtime they did something that perhaps they have no idea how much made my day.

Thinking of missed events I couldn't get to a Remembrance Day Parade today so instead I stood outside my front door at the 11th hour for the 2 minutes of silent respect. I heard the Last Post from the Cenotaph on my phone. I thought of my grandpa Le Brizet and all the men, women & animals of all Nations who have given their life so we may know peace. In those moments I was not alone. The sense of community was profound.

I haven't had any visitors today but I have had 2 wonderful, spontaneous telephone calls with friends. One the traditional way over my landline and the other via a messaging app. We talked and debated and laughed and shared. Hearing a voice is so personal and even if that person is far away hearing their voice brings them so close.

Which brings me full circle to the question I posed earlier - that we are connected to the world thanks to the internet and modern technology ... or are we?

Well, yes, of course we are. And that is a wonderful thing and I would not change that for the world. However digital communication is always distant even if the person you are 'talking' to is in the next house. And that is fine when it is balanced by real, face to face or voice to voice human interaction. When it is not it can be the most lonely way in the world to communicate as thousands of our young people are now saying, with all the impact on mental health that comes with it.

I say it is time to go back to spontaneous phone calls. We are so habituated now to messaging rather than calling and if we do call we message first to see if it is ok. We never used to do this back on the days before smartphones. We just used to pick up the phone and chat. You'd ask if it was ok, if the other person had time - if they didn't they'd say and if they did then off you'd chat. Fabulous even if only for a few minutes.

I say it is time to go back to being friendly to one another when we pass in the street - a nod or a smile is validation and a brief friendly exchange might be the only human interaction someone has all day.

I say it is time for me to contact my Parish Council and ask if I can get a sign made to put on the bench at the end of my street. A sign that says, "Friendship Bench. Please sit & have a chat." I need to be the change I want to see in my world.

There is nothing in the digital world of words that can replace the sound of a voice, that can replace a smile or a hug.

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