It's easy to forget in the midst of our seemingly intractable divides, but human beings need each other. Truly.
We are social creatures, of course, but our need for human connection goes beyond family bonds and friendship and social stimulation. In times of distress especially, the simple, purposeful presence of another person can be powerfully transformative—both emotionally and physiologically.
Ryan Kuja, a surfer who also happens to be a trained therapist and theologian, shared a beautiful post that illustrates this fundamental truth.
"Two days ago I was out surfing and a young guy, maybe 20 or so, was just inside of me by 10 yards or so. Suddenly he started yelling frantically 'Hey! Hey! Help! Help me!' As I started paddling toward him he disappeared under water for a second and resurfaced with a frantic look of terror on his face.
'The leash wrapped around my legs!' he said to me as I got to him.
'I'm here. I got you,' I said, knowing he was in sympathetic hyperarousal and his nervous system was dysregulated due to the perceived threat (being out in waves with the leash wrapped around both legs). In a few seconds his state shifted. The look on his face changed. The co-regulating process moved him from panic and survival physiology to a sense of being ok, that he wasn't in danger, it had passed.
A few years ago I was surfing on a fairly big day in Washington when I fell taking off on a wave and I heard my collar bone snap. Right up against a rock jetty in 6-8' surf, survival physiology kicked in and I paddled with my one usable arm to the beach and collapsed in terror and exhaustion.
Another surfer came up to me, looked me in the eye, put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'I'm an EMT. I'm here. I'm going to stay with you. An ambulance is on its way.' I can feel the tears well up writing this as I remember that moment. My body was going into a state of mild shock from the injury, but his calm presence allowed my nervous system to settle. His presence was co-regulating, allowing my physiology to settle a bit in the midst of a highly distressing situation.
I likely would have developed prolonged survival physiology (trauma) if he hadn't been there. His attunement didn't save my life (I had already done that by paddling in with one arm), but it saved me from the potential pitfalls of an overwhelmed nervous system that stays locked in survival mode. I surfed the same spot a few months later, nervous I was going to be triggered. I wasn't, thanks to that random stranger. I've never had triggering symptoms related to this event, something that easily--so easily--could have robbed me of my deep love for surfing and the ocean.
'I'm here.' Some of the holiest words I've ever known."
So beautiful and so true. I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere. I've got you. These simple words from the mouth of a stranger can change chaos into calm, terror into calm, trauma into comfort. How incredible is the power of human connection?
We need each other. And we need to remember we need each other.
Thanks for the reminder, Ryan Kuja.
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