I was standing in the lobby of the Holiday Inn here in Cambridge, Ohio when I learned that Robin Williams had died. Immediately I turned to the woman working behind the check-in counter and relayed the news. I did not know her and she did not know me – but for some reason I thought the news worthy of telling a stranger. Her reaction was one of shock and disbelief. Like me she could not believe that the greatest comic genius of our generation had died. It all seemed surreal.
I thought back to that moment a few days later and realized that Robin Williams had touched the lives of every day people all over our country and, probably, the world and this woman (who I did not know) and I were now strangely connected to this sad, grievous moment. We were connected by this shared experience and we never knew each other’s names. But more than that – and this may sound strange – it felt like we wanted to be connected even if in a small way during this moment. This was news that one just does not want to experience alone.
As Lisa and I travel around the country we have learned how very much alike we are to people we meet. Friends we have made along our journey have made us laugh, cry, become angry with, frustrated and inspired by. People may have different accents everywhere we have been and different parts of America have different interests, styles and eating habits. But mostly – people are just like us. They love their families, work hard, want what is best for their towns, and many, if not most, love God and love their country.
Perhaps the most important learning in our journey has been that most people want to make connections with other people. I know there are exceptions to this rule. Trust me, we have met a few people in the various RV parks where we have stayed who make it very clear they don’t want to talk or be talked to. But most are people who do want to connect with others. In fact, we have discovered that there seems to be an epidemic of loneliness and isolation among many of the people we have met along the way and that is both sad and disturbing. Some people seem absolutely starved for companionship. Even though we are surrounded by people everywhere, loneliness seems to be at an all-time high level and as we become more connected through social media, we seem to be growing more estranged from one another.
Recently Lisa and I visited the Cambridge Glass Museum and were amazed at the collection of glass products that were produced here in Cambridge from the early 1900’s up through the 1950’s. The glassware on display harkens back to a day and age when people dressed up for their meal and tables were set with elegance and style. Serving meals during that time was the social connection of the day and meals were eaten slowly and often would take a couple of hours to complete. Our guide made the comment that people hardly talk during meals today or they are staring at their smart phones instead of interacting with one another. (In fact, it is sad to say, many children will grow up not knowing what it is like to eat food from a glass dish.) Before television took over our schedule and rushed us through our meals, people savored food and conversation. I also wonder if blood pressures were lower then. Sometimes I wish I could experience life at a slower pace without technology. Who knows? Maybe food tasted better and people felt less lonely.
Lisa and I are now entering another thirteen week stay here in Cambridge. We have made some connections with people – we have made friends – but our lifestyle is as fast paced as ever. We eat off of plastic plates and drink from cans or plastic bottles. Often we go into a restaurant and look at our phones rather than each other. We did buy a piece of vintage Cambridge glass – a finger bowl from 1926. I don’t know who owned the bowl originally or what it was really used for. It is too small to eat cereal out of and not much good for soup. It may have very little practical use.
But maybe it will remind us to put our phones away while we are eating. People ate from this bowl when there was no television or internet. And they seemed to get by just fine. Maybe this “finger bowl” will remind us that we can survive a thirty minute meal without “Facebook” or “Instagram”. I’m glad we made that connection.
Love, Steve and Lisa