Connecting the Dots

During the morning church service, the beautiful little girl sits on my leg and moves her crayon confidently from one point on the page in front of her to the next.  As she slides the brown-colored wax stick from number to number, the outline of a picture appears, clearly depicting a shepherd with his sheep.

It hasn’t always been like this.

A year or two ago the little tyke, one of my four favorite grandchildren, would have asked, in her version of a whisper (meaning: loudly enough for all nearby to hear clearly), “What do I do here, Grandpa?”

Grandpa would have explained that she needed to start on the number 1 and draw a line to the number 2.  A little squiggly line that wandered off to the side and then back again would have been drawn tentatively.  At that point, the crayon would be lifted from the page and the question repeated, possibly even a little more loudly.

Eventually the picture would be visible, although not nearly as neat as today’s, nor with as straight of lines from number to number.  Clearly, she has learned to connect the dots much more skillfully in the intervening time.

The services are notably quieter too, since she has learned to whisper a little better, as well.

I smile as I think about the beautiful little girl and how she is growing.  And learning.  But, as I think, my mind wanders.  Those dots remind me of something else.  They make me think a little about other types of connections.

Human connections.

They’re not so different from connecting the dots, are they?

I had a conversation with some friends the other day about being connected with family members.  One of my friends mentioned the spoons which her family uses in their home.  They once belonged to her grandmother.  My friend has made sure that her children know where they came from.  It ensures that they remember the lady, even though she is gone. When they use the utensils for a meal, they all feel a connection to an absent family member.

She is helping her children to connect the dots, pointing out numbers represented by various events and aiding them in seeing a clear picture of family.

I thought about those spoons and couldn’t help but see in my head numerous items in my own house.  One in particular which I have written about before is my great-grandmother’s sugar jar. It had, years ago, become my grandmother’s sugar jar, passing then to my father, who gave it to me.

We use the jar daily.   Nearly every time I twist the lid off to scoop sugar out, I see, in my mind’s eye, the faces of all the preceding generations who have used the jar.

By passing the jar on to me, my father was simply helping me to connect the dots.  Someday, I’ll do the same for the next generation.

As I write, I realize that the pictures drawn by my words here all have fairly tangible connections.  Numbers written in sequence and placed in the correct position on a piece of paper make a viable art project for a six-year old.  Relatives who have been a part of our lives and have already made their mark on them are remembered by objects we can hold in our hands, as we employ the items in everyday tasks.

But, what about other connections, not so easily seen?

If we can’t see them and haven’t actually experienced them, are they even real?  Do they make any difference at all?

On a recent evening, I sat in my easy chair and relaxed, letting the stresses and busy-ness of the day fall away.  Nearby, the Lovely Lady read from a book she held on her lap.  Things were as they should be–I lazing for awhile, and she getting ready to fill the hours with crafty activity, crocheting or sewing, or whatever it is she does with those needles and yarn.

Just a typical evening in our household.

But, then again . . .

Gradually, I became aware of a shift in emotion in the room.  I know I’m only a man.  It takes me awhile to get a clue.  But something was obviously different.

I looked over at the Lovely Lady.  She was unhappy.  Almost distraught.  As she looked up from her reading, I think I may have seen tears in her eyes.  It could have been my imagination.

Nonetheless, she was emotionally moved by what she had read.  I remembered then that she had found an old book of her family history while cleaning at her parent’s home (both of them deceased).  The book had been compiled about her mother’s side of her family.  It was full of information from the nineteenth century.

Great-grandparents, and great-aunts and uncles, none of whom she had ever known, filled the pages of the narrative.

She looked at me and, realizing that an explanation for her emotion was in order, spoke the words.  “Life was so hard for my family.”

Then, thinking that more information was needed, she added, “I would never have been born if they hadn’t survived these troubles.”

The words on the pages before her had come to life in her being.  These were her people, her family.  She is, in part, all of them.  The hardships they suffered–the wild fires they survived–the horrific living conditions they endured–all of them happened to her.

To her.

Connecting the dots.

Dots she never knew existed.  It didn’t mean they were not there.

My young friend, Grace, is studying photography at the local university.  She takes photos of what she sees. It is what photographers do. One of her photographs stopped me in my tracks yesterday.

The photograph will likely need some explanation.  Then again, perhaps not much.

The news has been full of events in Ferguson, Missouri for months.  Last week, riots and looting broke out as the racial anger boiled over and the filters that, in ordinary circumstances, would prevent such action were lost or discarded.

Windows were broken. Fires were set.  Property was destroyed.  Guns were fired.

Many words have been spoken and written about the situation since then–words which are hurtful and angry.  My own emotions have surged as I have seen the images and have heard the angry words from many different perspectives.

I have stood in despair and wondered why those people would be so angry and destructive in their actions.  I have listened in horror and wondered why those other people would be so angry and hateful in their words.

Those people.

Photo: Grace Ellen Nast  Used with permission.

My young friend went to Ferguson. Herself.  Standing in the place where the horrible violence occurred, she took a picture of her feet.

That’s right.  Her feet.

On the ground.  In Ferguson. In the middle of the bricks and the ashes.

I glanced at the photo and shrugged mentally.  Big deal.

Then it hit me.

Those same feet, the ones in the blue sneakers, walked into my music store one afternoon last week.

Funny.  Her feet–the ones in the blue sneakers, on the ground in Ferguson– they stood on the ground in front of me just last week.

It’s the same ground.


Suddenly, the miles and the man-made divisions seem insignificant as I begin to grasp the reality.   These are not someone else’s problems, occurring in a different world than the one in which I live and move.

These are my people.  What happens to them, happens to me.

To me.

In my mind the arguments pile atop each other; the evidence of connections between me and those people is overwhelming.

I want to convince with logic.  Perhaps, if I can overwhelm the reader with scientific proof of our shared ancestry, of DNA, of common history–perhaps then we’ll embrace each other.  Perhaps then the violence, the slurs, the hatred can stop.

It won’t happen.

The words I would say have all been said, the arguments made again and again.  The human heart is turned to evil and deceit, and only God can change it.  It has always been so.

But today, for me, sitting on the knee of the one true Artist, I see the connection.  Like my granddaughter, the skill at recognizing those points of connection may increase with maturity and practice.   

It may.

I want it to be true.

Maybe we can help each other.

We are connected, after all.

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
(Martin Luther King Jr ~ American pastor/civil rights leader ~ 1929-1968)

“Be joyful.  Grow to maturity.  Encourage each other.  Live in harmony and peace.  Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”
(2 Corinthians 13:11 ~ NLT)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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