Intricate Connections

Four-plus years ago, I wrote a post I entitled, The People Who Feed Us. In it, I mentioned almost in passing that I wished I had the opportunity to meet and talk to the farmers and farmworkers and the other people responsible for getting food to my pantry and my refrigerator. I expressed an interest in talking to people involved in every facet of feeding me, even “the person who artificially inseminated the cow that gave birth to the animal from whose carcass my steak was carved.” That curiosity—about people who have a significant impact on our lives in one way or another but about whom we know very little—continues to grow.

I thought about a related issue again yesterday afternoon, when I realized too late that I had ordered something through Amazon but had failed to update my mailing address. The item already had been shipped. It will be delivered to a house I no longer own nor live in. As I contemplated what steps I would need to take to update my mailing address, I thought about the incredibly complex web of people who might be touched by my mistake or others like it, people who:

work to ensure that Amazon’s online systems are as simple as possible so that purchasers can correct such errors (until items are shipped); deliver my package; are involved in managing the intricacies of processing credit card payments; designed the products I bought; manufactured and marketed those products; produced the website content that enabled me to order the products; measured the demand for products like the ones I ordered and/or determined the need to supply them…the list of people is almost endless.

What if, I wondered, I could have a brief conversation with each of these people? Not necessarily to learn about their jobs so much, but to learn a little about their lives. How much insight into the challenges and obstacles facing them might I gain? How much appreciation for their successes might I have after these brief conversations? And how much greater an understanding might I gather about people who are very different from me? Or might I come to realize that they all are essentially the same, at their core; people just like me?

I have had similar “brainstorms” in the past. Many, many similar brainstorms. I imagine, on occasion, stopping people with whom I interact in various settings, to take a few moments to tell me about their lives. I don’t, of course, because they often are in a time crunch to perform their jobs…or my inquiry might confuse them and throw them off.  But I would find it fascinating to engage in conversation with them; about their lives, not their jobs. People like:

the person delivering my mail; the UPS or FedEx delivery person; the bank teller; the grocery store cashier; the fast-food clerk or manager; the waitstaff at restaurants; the guys who do yardwork; the HVAC maintenance person; the hotel or motel desk clerk; the pharmacist; again, the list is almost endless.

Intense thoughts about both the mundane and the exciting aspects of our lives helps me realize how deeply involved I am with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other people. People who impact my life in ways large and small, but about whose influences on me I rarely consider. No matter how withdrawn from the world one might try to be, the structure of our society demands almost labyrinthine involvement with others. We depend on one another for almost everything. We are far more engaged with one another than we tend to think we are; perhaps not always face-to-face, but engaged, nonetheless.

Thinking about how much the comfort my life depends on other people—by and large people I do not know personally and generally never even meet—causes me to realize I do not express my gratitude enough. In part, of course, because I do not even realize I should be grateful. Only after I think deeply about the role other people play in my enjoyment of life do I realize how much a debt of gratitude I owe to so many.

Too often, in the face of unpleasantness or obstacles, I quickly forget how grateful I should be. The tendency to erase that realization is a constant struggle. I admire people who seem to have overcome (or who have never had) the tendency to forget gratitude. They seem to me generally happier and more at ease in the world than the rest of us. I may constitute  small percentage who fail to adequately recognize the need for gratitude. But I don’t think so. I think I am among the masses who should nurse an attitude that demonstrates that we realize the importance of human connections. Even mundane, transactional connections. They all are important. I realize that now. I may forget, but I’ll try to remember.


I was told the buyer of my house has finally signed the purchase documents and that the title company has the money from the lender. And I am told the funds will be wired to my account today. Hallelujah! Based on what I was told, I should get a phone call confirming the transfer just about the time an MRI of my right knee is being done. So it goes.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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