“This is a story about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots. So it needs saying from the outset that it’s always very easy to declare that other people are idiots, but only if you forget how idiotically difficult being a human is. Especially if you have other people you’re trying to be a reasonably good human being for.” (Backman, p.1)
In Anxious People, Fredrik Backman brings together eight very different people in an apartment that’s for sale, an unlikely viewing on the day before New Year’s Eve. These anxious people are all unknown to each other, and “one bad decision” forces them to spend more time together than they ever intended. By the end of the story they are connected in more ways than just occupying the same space.
Their connections to each other, to their circumstances, and to the setting, remind us that we do not exist in isolation. There are connections on this planet that we often don’t pay close enough attention to. Or that we choose not to pay attention to. Our lives intersect with the lives of others every day. We can choose to make those connections- however brief- positive ones or lasting ones. Or both.
When I finished this book, I knew immediately it had become my second favorite book, right after Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet In Heaven. In a similar vein, that one is about how your life can touch someone else’s in ways you might never know about; how those possibly brief insignificant interactions can have a lasting impact on someone’s life. And although you may never realize it, it doesn’t make it any less important or significant. Maybe that’s the point, to go through life believing that your interactions with others could or will have a lasting impact. Would that make a difference in our lives? To pay more attention to our interactions, whether random or deliberate?
Before COVID, I’d taken it for granted how easy it was to make and keep connections with someone. It was so easy to meet up in a coffee shop, sit down together for an hour and chat. So easy in fact, that I’d often put it off until “maybe next week” or “when things aren’t so crazy.” How many times did I do that? Probably more than I can count.
We spend so much time managing our own self-created chaos; the carpools, the technology, the routines, the stuff. It is hard to be a human today. We’re trying to set a good example for our kids, to show them how to be a good human. But sometimes our message gets lost in the shuffle. Maybe eating dinner in the car four nights a week because we’re so overscheduled isn’t the best way to show this.
It’s not the places or the activities we’re trying to get to that should be so important. In the face of our never-ending agendas we forget that what makes it worth being a good human is our connection to other humans.
And then a pandemic forced us all to stop. In the middle of everything. At first I welcomed the break, even with all the uncertainty. But after fifty days without entering a place of business, or a store, or going to work, I could feel a breakdown coming on. It was because I had withdrawn so much. I didn’t pick up the phone as often as I could have; I felt like those early days I was in sort of a shut-down mode and just trying to figure out how to deal with the loss of everything. I was grieving- mostly alone- and I didn’t even realize it. I was intentionally not seeking out family and friends because I constantly felt like I was one deep breath away from crying all the time. I felt like if I’d connected with people during that time, that’s all we’d talk about and I was so tired of thinking about it and talking about it with my family. I thought I just couldn’t take anymore.
Back in April a friend had commented that the “hardest thing was just to put that first foot on the floor each morning.” It can be just as hard to reach out to people when you’re feeling like this. It was and is difficult to say the least, not knowing when there might be an end in sight, and trying to explain to your kids the why and the how, and remaining positive when you neither understand nor feel very positive. The despair breeds loneliness breeds isolation breeds more loneliness and anxiety.
We are all of us anxious people at some point- paralyzed by our worries to the point of seeming beyond hope. What brings us back? Other people. Connections with other people, either a deliberate or random event.
I stood around a fire pit with ten strangers the other night. It was a meditation of sorts, and although very few of us had any personal connections to the other, we showed up with the same intentions- to find peace, to share peace, to encourage each other to keep going, and keep showing up, keep working at life and being a good human.
One woman shared a quote, “We are here for such a time as this.” Maybe we are. I walk around sometimes wondering why things are the way they are, wishing for better, wishing things were different. But maybe our generation are the ones who can “do the hard things” for long enough to make a difference for us, for other humans. Maybe we’re meant to be here right now, to feel and cry and rage against the injustices of the world. Maybe we’re the ones meant to effect positive change to our circumstances right now and our self-created chaos that extends so far beyond our own homes.
“We are here for such a time as this.” Maybe we are here at this time to be an example for our children, to show them that being a good human and doing the hard things are worth it. Our humanity and our planet need us to fight for them with passion and endurance and more voices; to recognize our connectedness and get out of our own heads.
Backman’s book is an inspiring reminder to me that good things, positive connections, can come from random happenings. “The world (is) spinning through space at two million miles an hour while we bounce about on its surface like so many lost socks.” (Backman, p. 1) But every now and again, those socks can find where they’re supposed to be. The story is a reminder that hope is there- we just may have to look a little harder for it. But it’s worth it.
And maybe, just maybe, in light of some random happenings (or because of them?), maybe we see that we aren’t making such a mess of things anyway.
“…when you get home this evening, when this day is over and the night takes us, allow yourself a deep breath. Because we made it through this day as well. There’ll be another one along tomorrow.” (Backman, p. 336)