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Matt Hampton: Meetings and Partings

What does it mean to connect to someone?

I’ve asked this question a lot. I get asked this question a lot as well. It’s a hazard of being a writer who made his latest name by “connecting” with people. I’ve heard a lot of definitions for what “connecting” is. Some of them are really profound, some spiritual, some incredibly well thought out, and still others are garbage slung by salespeople trying to be more personable.

The tricky part of defining anything, there simply is no universal way to define most things. Connection is difficult because it has no strict requirements anywhere except in your mind. Words have meaning, true, but we put so much of that meaning into them. It’s why we need to treat language as sacred and be consistent, but that’s for another time.

So how do I define connection? What does it mean to me? I tend to think of this lately as a spiritual matter. Not a religious one, but a matter of faith itself. Religions have, in my experience, been all too keen on pulling out the checklists and membership cards to create a new class of human, one more worthy than the garden-variety creation of a greater being. My idea of connecting is strongly bound to my idea of universal love for living things, to basic human compassion, and to our need as people to have someone there to share the fleeting minutes of our lives with before we face whatever comes next.

Perhaps the greatest commandment found in any religious philosophy is the call to love all people. Not the people who look like you, who act like you, who agree with you, but all people on this little mud ball we call Earth. That one little principle, loving all people, will take all of us our entire lives, and tragically not find it’s way to realization before we shed the mortal coil and run on to new adventures. In doing 100 Connections, I learned so much about loving my neighbor, but I also learned about how much a random person could hurt you as well.

Not every one of these Connections turned into a friendship. I wish more had actually, but life is a series of meetings and partings, with us having far less say in the matter than we’d like. Most of the time we pass each other by with almost no impact beyond those few fleeting moments we shared. The memories will fade and life will move on much as it always does.

Sometimes we find in the person across the table a kindred spirit. They sit in our thoughts and in our hearts. The stories and little bits of wisdom we shared, the minutes that stretched or shrank as the fates would have it, all sit fresh and waiting for their time to pop in for a moment. Maybe we make plans, build relationships, or just smile when we see each other passing by, happier that the world has the two of us in it.

And tragically there are the times when we will do harm. I am of the opinion that we rarely hurt others because we are malicious, because we want people to suffer. Instead we hurt people because we are human beings, the spiritual equivalent to a newborn deer’s soul in an elephant’s body. We hurt others because we can’t see beyond ourselves, because we have the burning need to be right, because we are hurting, or, saddest of all, because we just don’t take the time to think. Our carelessness leaves scars, some healing more than others, but all a mark forever upon a heart and soul.

In the end you will have whatever definition of connecting that you want. That’s the nature of words, of stories, we see them as we choose to see them. Often we apply the simplest and most convenient definitions. We take on the mantle of hero in the story and we move onward. Maybe we look back, maybe we don’t, but in any case we leave something of ourselves behind.

We define what connection means to us, but we should take care what we make it mean to those we spend those precious minutes of our lives with. Perhaps the better action is to ask you the titular question.

What does Connection mean to you?

Your answer is yours and yours alone, but I would challenge you to decide what it is, then ask yourself how you will leave those you connect to.

In the end we have but moments to make marks that will last a lifetime. Pay attention and handle with care.

Matt Hampton is the storyteller and writer behind 100 Connections. He started the project as a last try to make a life worth living, and ended up living his childhood dream of being a working writer. Matt shares the things that have happened, lessons he has learned, and random tidbits from his life in his podcast Confessions of a Working Writer. When not writing, he spends time with the love of his life, Mary Ann, and the oldest dog in the world, Maggie, watching Star Wars movies for the ten-thousandth time.

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