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Authentic Connection and a Goat Named Grace

Hugs from my grandma, the smell of gardenia flowers and the sound of peepers on a summer night. These are some of my favorite memories of authentic connection from my childhood.

I have several brief moments of memories that have occurred all throughout my life that continuously show up at seemingly random moments. I can't always quite remember what was really happening at the time when they actually occurred, yet tiny glimpses of them pop into my head over and over again. There is no apparent connection with whatever I am doing in real time when they arrive, and no clear pattern or regularity of why or when they show up. I often find myself asking: Why do they keep showing up, and what significance do they bring with them?

One such memory is from sometime in high school, I think. I remember that we (whatever class I was attending at the time) had taken a walk on a trail that led up into the hills (I would call them hills but some might call them mountains) near my school. I have no idea why we went. I vaguely remember my high school science teacher being with us, yet somehow this memory is also tied to a conversation I had in 6th grade with a specific classmate about the proper way to pronounce Hawaii.

The snippet of memory that I see show up in my mind is at the end of the walk as we are returning to the school grounds. I remember having had a really deep and authentic connection during a conversation with that same classmate on the walk back (yes, the same one that I had the discussion about proper pronunciation with several years prior). I have no recollection of the topic of the conversation we had on that walk, only that we got lost in it and strayed back behind the group quite a distance. When we finally arrived back, our classmates were teasing us about falling in love and other obnoxious taunts that were embarrassing at the time because... teenagers.

This particular classmate was not someone that I would ever have categorized as a "friend" throughout the years that we were in school together. I went to a really small school (on average about 150 kids PreK-12th grade) in rural Vermont. This meant that there wasn't a real opportunity for many cliques to form, although there were definitely groups that formed based on interests and/or hobbies. I somehow managed to float around and befriend most of these groups as I was generally involved in almost anything that was available for me to participate in: sports, drama, music, art, National Honor Society, student council, you name it.

I remember being angry about the teasing from my schoolmates after that walk, and conscientiously made some distance between myself and my classmate to quickly squash any rumors that were beginning. I also remember seeing a look of disappointment on his face when he tried to engage in a later conversation with me and I clearly dismissed his efforts.

My next memory with this classmate was a few years later. The people we were both dating happened to be siblings. The family of our mutual partners went on vacation and asked us to take turns caring for their pets. This was no small task. Their pets included several cats and dogs (who had free reign both inside and outside of the house at their will), some fish and bunnies and other caged animals, as well as a sheep named Grace. Grace was a known escape artist and the protocol for getting her back was to fill a can with sheep food pellets, and shake it while simultaneously alternating between her name and the best sheep "baaaaaaaa" you could muster.

One day, Grace got loose. This was not unexpected. However, at the same time, one of the dogs who had enjoyed a night out exploring the local wildlife returned while I was busy chasing down the sheep. He had found himself face to butt with a porcupine and came back with a snoot full of needles. Not knowing quite what to do about this, I ended up calling my classmate, as he was also responsible for caring for this menagerie on my off days. I was pleasantly surprised when he did not hesitate to jump in his truck and come assist with the issue.

That afternoon, we enjoyed another conversation. I remember thinking that day that I wasn't quite sure why we'd never talked more because he was actually a really engaging person. Somehow the memories of our previous conversations did not cross my mind at the time. I also find it intriguing that out of most of the classmates that I spent 12-13 years with in the same class and had numerous birthday parties, sleepovers, and day-to-day interactions with, he is one that I think of often as an adult, yet I had so few meaningful interactions with him then.

I tell you this story today because for one, that memory of our walk back to the school grounds popped into my head again randomly last night. When it did, I made an intention to understand why I keep seeing this memory and to be open to whatever it is that it has been trying to teach me. I then drifted off to sleep and didn't really think about it again until I sat down to write this blog post. The topic I chose to write about was connection, and while my first thoughts on the subject went straight to memories of hugs from my grandmother and then to the sounds and smells of her house, that same memory of the walk in high school quickly returned. I now realize what significance it has. It is reminding me of authentic connection.

(Actual photo of me as a baby with my grandma - circa 1980!)

Authentic connections stand out. They feel different than mundane conversations that you have with co-workers about unimportant topics while warming up your lunch in the break room, or the pleasant yet still insignificant discussion about the sweatshirt you're wearing with the person who checks you out at the grocery store. Sometimes they happen with people that you know well and sometimes they happen with a person that you happen to be seated next to on an airplane (I've had several of those!).

We are all experiencing a time in our lives right now where authentic connections are vital. Perhaps more so than we have found them to be ever before in our lives. When the chaos of our routines are removed and we are faced with isolation, stillness, and solitude, our minds focus on deeper levels of consciousness. When the constant proximity of strangers is missing, our sense of touch is heightened. In these moments of stillness, we may find that these random thoughts are more present or more noticeable than they were previously. I challenge you to listen to what your thoughts are trying to tell you. While they may seem random and disconnected, they often have a story to tell that is far more meaningful than you may imagine.

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