Speak with someone who is recovering from illness or injury, and there’s a good chance that you’ll hear about the role that other people have played in their story. Others can make a difference for the better when we’re battling sickness. They can provide turning points in our lives. Just knowing that we have people who care about us, who’ve been through similar challenges, and who are willing to lend us a hand translates into strength and resilience.
It matters on an individual level, and when a culture builds its own support network, it results in greater longevity for its members, according to United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams. In an interview with author and Duke Divinity School professor Kate Bowler, he tells us that When you look at the communities across the world that live the longest, the feature that is the most outstanding is that they have a sense of community, that they gather together, that they lift each other up. https://katebowler.com/podcasts/jerome-adams-we-belong-to-each-other/
Lifting up one another is a consequence of seeing others as part of us. And according to Dr. Adams, having just a handful of such supporters makes a difference that translates into how long we live! If you have three friends who you can call when you’re down, you actually have several years extra of life expectancy compared to someone who doesn’t have someone who they can call, and so really important that we lift up that component of health, that social connection, and it’s especially important when you’re dealing with sickness with a potentially deadly diagnosis.
Interviewer Kate Bowler is no stranger to the threat of serious illness, and I highly recommend her memoir Everything Happens For a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved to anyone who is facing their own or a loved one’s cancer diagnosis.
I learned about Everything Happens at a bookstore in Florida where I was doing a reading/signing event for Open Admissions. A passerby—a fellow college teacher—talked with me about my book and the work of teaching and learning. He hadn’t come to see me, but we chatted at length and connected further on the subject of illness and its impact on families, and he told me about a book by a Duke professor that had moved him deeply. He also ended up buying a copy of Open Admissions, for which I thanked him gratefully.
Packing up the books that had not sold before I drove to the airport, I could not wipe the smile of appreciation off my face. Then I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. It was the man again. Here’s that book I mentioned. I want your sick family member to have it.
I read half of Everything Happens on the flight. He’d blessed my day at least twice, made such a kind human connection. And the book has made the rounds in my family. Kate Bowler deserves readers. He knew that and now I do too. If you’re not familiar with her work, I hope you’ll consider checking out her blog, podcasts, and other writings. https://katebowler.com/blog/
Sick or healthy, we need each other.
Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the “Turning Points” weekly blog on nedbachus.com. City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction. Bachus’s article, “Learning From Turning Points in Our Teaching Lives,” was featured in the May issue of NEA Higher Education Advocate, which reaches over 150,000 college faculty in the U.S. http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/1901eAdvocate_ThrivingFinal.pdf