“Suzana Sent Me!” – The Importance of Connections

20130307-081457.jpg“Suzana sent me.” I said it with complete confidence. I had a connection. If Suzana sent me, then all would be ok. The owner of the shoe repair store smiled “Ahh Suzana! How is she? We’re buddies, me and that one!”

Suzana is Portuguese and you can’t walk down the street without her knowing someone, establishing a relationship with someone. Suzana knows how to connect. She also has a thousand pairs of shoes. She frequents the shop a lot. Arriving with her name on my lips was like arriving at Buckingham Palace and saying I was Kate Middleton, or arriving at the White House as Sasha Obama.

By virtue of my relationship with Suzana, I was known, I had a relationship, I was connected. It meant all the difference.

I grew up in a culture that placed high value on family and connection. Within minutes of meeting someone, connections were established. I was Ralph and Polly Brown’s daughter, I was connected with the women’s and children’s hospital, I was connected to a host of surrogate aunties and uncles – all part of the larger missionary community. To the outsider this was seemingly small, but huge in a place where relationships were everything. A place where connections were more important than education, and who you knew meant the difference between service, or no service; between relationship or none.

It was connection and belonging that I desperately missed when I moved to my passport country. My passport country seemed to be more about where you worked or went to school than who you knew.

Connections are about belonging. They are about relationship. They are about having an “in”. I realized this again the other day when I confidently used Suzana’s name.

We are made for connections, we are wired to ‘be known’, our DNA spells out the importance of human contact. As a society moves away from acknowledging this need what happens to its soul? Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community speaks extensively to this need, and how disconnected the United states has become from family, friends, and community in general.

He calls these connections ‘Social Capital’ “the fabric of our connections with each other”and looks at these trends over the last 25 years:

People who attend club meetings:
58% drop

Families who eat dinner together:
43% drop

Having friends over:
35% drop

His analysis shows that this decrease in ‘social capital’ “impoverishes our lives”. Those “impoverished lives” include isolation, poorer physical health, changes in mental health, and emotional struggles.

How do we work toward repairing these connections and slowly rebuilding strong communities?

I’m the wrong person to ask this question for I have no answers. I’m tired. I work long work weeks, have family priorities and obligations, and would sooner sit on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book then go try and foster community in my neighborhood. That’s me being completely honest.

But then I think of summer and my Chinese neighbor coming to tell me I can come to her garden and pick mint leaves anytime I want, I think of our Greek neighbors and their little boy who knows my husband by name, and I think about the conversation I had with a cobbler, a familiarity I now enjoy in the middle of a busy city – all because Suzana sent me. And I feel a glimmer of hope. Because this repairing of connections happens in small ways all around me and I’m encouraged to run with it – to be a connector so perhaps one day someone will say “Marilyn sent me!” and the kinship will be immediate.

What about you? Have you struggled to build connections where you live or work? Did you grow up, or live as an adult in a place where connections and community seemed to have a higher value? Would love to hear through the comments.

13 thoughts on ““Suzana Sent Me!” – The Importance of Connections

  1. Marilyn — is there a way that I can send a personal message to you? I was a teacher at Murree for one year and am very interested in your blogs. Sue Fredrikson


  2. How amazing that you should blog this today! I have also published a post on connections today and have another one up my sleeve for tomorrow, on making friends! Love it!!


  3. Amen and Amen! This is so true: Those “impoverished lives” include isolation, poorer physical health, changes in mental health, and emotional struggles. We are seeing this lived out before our eyes with one who is choosing isolation and is not the healthier for it. Very sad indeed. But I can also relate to your completely honest self in finding I do not have the time available during this season and I am the lonelier for it. Oh for summer days when people come out of hibernation! Thanks again, as always, for your thought provoking posts.


  4. Thanks for this article!
    I’ve recently thought again about the importante of connections in life. As a child, mixed-race, going to an international school, and very timid, I always had a hard time connecting. When I was a kid I used my brother as a connection, he was like your Suzana. Only 3 years older than me, and despite looking nothing like the locals, he always managed to win people over and I people loved to just call me “Agostino’s sister”. This opened doors for me, allowed me to be well-liked in certain circles, and I suppose it made me a bit lazy to find my own connections. When I reached my teens and my brother and I were doing separate things, I came to miss how easy it was to connect to people because of him. I struggled to connect and actually began to shun connection, as if it was something completely unnecessary, unwanted. But of course, everyone wants human connection. I’ve been living abroad (well, no country is home to me, so abroad compared to where I was born and raised) for 15 years with two kids, and only just recently thought of how important it is to connect. O have started trying to connect more. Not just to people I think I might have long-term attachments to, but also with complete strangers I might never see again. I am starting to appreciate other human beings a lot more now. :)


  5. Absolutely beautiful post – one that cuts to the heart of the emptiness that many of us feel. In the midst of our crowded, busy lives, we feel lonely and isolated. We long to be known and to have our “name” hold some meaning to others. When we are a conduit to help others, we know that we are fostering community in some way. I could go on and on and on….

    Thank you for writing…always :)


  6. Being an introvert off the scale, making any kind of connection can be a challenge for me. The greatest connector is my relationship to Jesus. I always find The bonds of faith create an instant basis for what follows – transcending culture, clam and experience. And then, it also is good to have a Suzanna or two in your life – and to be a Suzanna, too.


  7. Loved this, Marilyn. I think as TCK’s we learn to make friends quickly but not deeply, or some of us do anyway, but ultimately we may be at risk for alienation because of the nomadic upbringing and the way our families seem to be spread out all over the country when we return “home.” Some places are just friendlier than others. In Alaska, most people are from somewhere else so there’s a real need for people to reach out to one another during those dark winter days and have get-togethers. In England, it took me months to make connections or even have people return a smile. In the Pacific NW people are friendly, but there is still a sense of reserve. And I think you hit the nail on the head. We’re all busy. When people are working 2-3 jobs just to put food on the table, socializing has to fail.


  8. Thank you Marilyn…it is these connections that are the threads which woven together become the fabric of our life. I am confident “Marilyn has sent me” has be used often and in many ways! I am proud to be your friend….


    1. I can’t even describe how I felt when I read this comment – thank you so much. Really. I didn’t know you still read it and this just made my day.


Add to the discussion...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s