Safety in Numbers

I was in my early twenties the very first time I looked around a room and felt like I was “the adult.” It was closing time at my favorite café, and IMG_5607there were a handful of older teens outside, smoking weed and getting rowdy, and showing no signs of moving along. The young woman closing up shop was a friend of my sister’s, and I could tell she was uncomfortable with the idea of being left alone, with them right outside. I asked if she wanted me to stay, she said yes, and just like that I felt braver. I knew there wasn’t much I could do if they actually tried to cause trouble, but there is safety in numbers, and comfort in togetherness.

More than a decade later, as I was driving home from work my phone buzzed with an emergency alert, a tornado warning, indicating that a storm was imminent. I didn’t live close by at the time, so I wound up at Susie’s apartment. Susie had just gotten engaged a few days prior to a young man from California, and with the excitement of it I had been in “Susie mode” all week, but hadn’t really had a chance to connect with her. Meanwhile, her fiancé had returned home, and she was thinking about how much it sucked that she would have to wait through a tornado warning by herself just days after getting engaged.

Each of us was happy to have the other there, and we had a great time huddling together, listening to the wind, telling favorite storm stories, and discussing whether ball lightning was real. It was an unlikely chance to connect. If a tornado came after us, there wasn’t much either of us could do to protect the other, but there is safety in numbers, and comfort in togetherness.

When you consider the acute fears people all over the world must face, it makes most of our fears seem silly, and yet, they feel so real in the moment. For most of us, the day-to-day gnawing fears that creep up on us are subtle, and we’re blessed that this is so, and yet, it’s so easy to give them the run of the house. Most days, it’s not storms or crime or looming medical diagnoses that get us, it’s the mundane wondering whether we’re doing the right thing, whether we’re making good decisions, whether everything will be OK. Then we worry about our nearest and dearest, for all the same reasons and perhaps more, because we feel we have no control, so we offer up our worry on their behalf. These are the things that really make me want to go find one of my people so I can hug and be hugged. I am blessed with a handful of friends to whom I can come as I am without needing to edit. It is rare to find people who are willing to come close and get involved, especially when things are messy. It is even more rare to find someone who will not let you sink. The friends who really see us, who help us navigate through our tangled emotions, who give us perspective. When we feel like we’re sinking below the waves, they rise above and point us to the horizon. They help us find solid ground. This is the kind of friend I want to be.

The thought came to me a while ago, “we’re not asking the right questions.” It was a general thought, and I’ve found it to be applicable in many arenas of life. I think learning to ask the right questions is one of the hardest skills to learn because there is no black or white. It is entirely situational. Here’s what I will tell you, though: The questions are not rhetorical. I’m still learning to ask meaningful questions and truly listen to the answers, but if I ask, I really want to know, because there is safety in numbers, and comfort in togetherness.

So let me ask, what’s on your mind?

(It’s not rhetorical)

7 thoughts on “Safety in Numbers”

  1. Lately, I wonder if it’s lazy of me to want a simple life, to want to have time to really enjoy the life I have. Should I feel obligated to have a busier, more complicated life? Your last blog about comparing helped me to see that because some people thrive in a very active lifestyle, I think of that as normal, and see my desire for simplicity and serenity as being unambitious and lazy. What do you think? (I feel greatly comforted knowing that someone else worries on behalf of others. I think God might call me his little worrywart. 🙂 )

    1. Funny you should mention that… One of the parts I took out was about how freeing it is to realize that significantly fewer people are filling out a report card on us than we think, and those who are, are probably doing it because we fall on the “has it” side of their own “she has, I don’t” comparison. You get to prioritize your own life! Chances are, no one will label that “lazy,” and if they do, it’s probably because they don’t feel the freedom to do so. Do you feel like anyone has tried to label you that way? Are there past experiences playing into it? Or is it only a response to societal norms? (and yes, totally normal on the worry thing!)

      1. No, no labels from the outside. Just fear of being myself and being different, I think. I love the idea of prioritizing my own life! That is freeing, indeed! Maybe if more of us do it, other people will feel safe to do it, too.

  2. I’ve been thinking about some of the same things lately. You mentioned how our fears must seem small to people on the other side of the world, but that hasn’t been my experience. In general, people here have a lot of joy that we don’t know about. There is a proverb that says “the day will come when the rich man will envy the poor man” and again from the New Testament, “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” It’s true that there are substantial material needs here, but people are in general happy. The diseases here are bad, but the spiritual malaria of the west seems much worse, able to inflame and burst the soul.

    1. This is really good perspective. Do you think community plays into that joy at all? Do you see interactions among the people benefiting their sense of wellness?

      1. I definitely think community is a big part of the joy I’ve seen here. In many ways, people are completely dependent on God and their neighbors. Everybody in the town we live in knows everybody else, and they want to know you. Another interesting thing is that pretty much everybody in town is at the same economic level. I had an eye opening conversation with one of my students yesterday along these lines. He said he wanted to make Africa better, and I asked him what he meant since people seemed happier and more content here than they do in America, and I’ll never forget his response; he said “they don’t know that things could be better.” We might all be better off not losing that innocence and elasticity.

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