Human beings are social animals and the tenor of our social life is one of the most important influences on our mental health. Without positive, durable relationships, both our minds and our bodies fall apart.
Our survival as a species similarly hinges on our capacity for social living. Most of human history was spent in small groups in which each was dependent on the others for survival, and evidence suggests this is the condition to which we are best adapted.
Psychology Today © 1991-2016 Sussex Publishers, LLC
It has come to this: the thrust of my social life springs from the agency of a bicycle ride.
Almost every morning I go for a short bicycle ride. It is a compulsion bred of a zeal for fresh air, the adrenaline of movement and the purgative effect of exercise. I have unwittingly found that the bike ride satisfies more than athletic urges. It turns out that my bicycle in addition to being a lowly device of transport is also a social vehicle. What happened today for example is not unusual. During my jaunt about Town (and at successive different junctures) I encountered four people whom I know. Parenthetically each of them was walking one or more dogs. I stopped to talk to each of the walkers (and of course to pat the dogs). Upon subsequent reflection it occurred to me that my bike ride affords me the opportunity to extrapolate much-needed conviviality from chance encounters along the route. Though biking doesn’t sound like a plausible forum for a conclave, given the leisurely nature of my ride and the austerity of focus it is in the result not unlike any other social convention, whether a soirée, a Town Hall meeting, a political gathering or a visit to the local pub. Quite simply, it gives me a window to chat and to get caught up. The bicycle ride conforms in two senses to the adage of my physiotherapist that “Motion is lotion” (apparently a catchphrase of the profession); namely, cycling not only lubricates my joints but also facilitates my social life.
I won’t of course betray the confidence of my collaborators but I’d like to share with you the flavour of the themes which percolated during these fortuitous and tenuous chinwags. I can assure you that the content of the conversations intrigued me and buoyed me for the remainder of the day.
Walker No. 1
The first walker (coincidentally a woman as were the other three) characterized what turned out to be the common features of singularity, purpose and individuality which I suppose is to be expected from anyone who selflessly devotes themselves to the contentment of animals by walking them. The fourth walker for example echoed that precise message, proclaiming when I stopped to talk with her that she felt Larry had been too much neglected when she earlier broke the fast with mutual friends and that he therefore warranted the benefit of an outing. Walker No. 1 (again like the others) is regularly observed walking her dogs. Although she quipped that walking the dogs maintains her sylphlike figure I quickly (and perhaps even coyly) contradicted her by attesting my familiarity with her athleticism over many years past. The particular intelligence imparted to me in this encounter was that Walker No. 1 had been given a “clean bill of health”. Hearing such detail is inevitably an abrupt reminder of the burden which some silently carry throughout the day. How incongruous it is in retrospect to assume that each and every one of us is puttering along without challenge or obstruction. To learn that someone has the certain joy of rising above what was clearly a threatening condition is an unparalleled advantage. It evokes community of spirit. It is one of those accidents of fate which everyone can embrace. Walker No. 1 exuded the palpable relief of the situation and the depth of appeasement. Her own recognizable delight was uplifting for me.
Walker No. 2
I encountered the second walker on the other side of the the Maclan Bridge which bisects our Town along the line of the Mississippi River. Walker No. 2, a protagonist of the episcopalian theorem, can be counted on to walk her Jack Russell in any weather at any time of the year, on Christmas Day or Doomsday. This small terrier with short legs is coincidentally named after John “Jack” Russell 1795 -1883 an English clergyman famed in fox hunting circles as a breeder of such terriers. Walker No. 2 exuberantly talked of the recent pronouncement of Synod, a seeming victory for the liberal interpretation of marriage vows (though I hastened to add that not everyone shared that opinion). In my hardened way I privately mused whether the church like politicians is driven by necessity to make pragmatic decisions. As so often happens the conversation turned to the matter of current affairs, in this case the terrorist tragedy in Nice which I too agreed plunged me into despondency. I noted that the layers of pernicious hatred of which humanity is capable are fuelled by endless grievances for revenge, pitting one group against another usually without examining the source of anger as though it were somehow unprovoked and entirely without reason or motive. Within seconds the dialogue transitioned to include an allusion to the inflammatory remarks by “certain” political figures. I remarked that the masses are not taking their direction from the likes of Donald Trump who, like kings and presidents before him, has learned to manipulate the credible power of the masses for his own purposes. In spite of the gravity of our congress we parted on a airy note but the implication of the crudeness and vulgarity of the so-called “common denominator” was unmistakeable, the threat of which one should be wary.
Walker No. 3
The third walker is as familiar to me as all the others, a notorious dog-walker and general outdoorsman. I have however more than a passing interest in this person because she radiates an almost supernatural levity. Every encounter I’ve ever had with her has been marked by uncompromising cheerfulness. Today was no exception. But today’s communication involved some hard facts, more than the mere absence of gloominess. Walker No. 3 at the age of 55 years is in the throes of a new relationship with a gentleman who recently turned 60. You will I am convinced grant me the significance of such a relationship between these “mature” members of our community. The relationship is all the more compelling because they have resolved to live together in their new house and to sell their erstwhile separate homes. If ever there were a prescription for adventure, that has to be it! I hasten to add that I especially like and approve the practical rationality which I have no doubt accompanied the decision. What a happy platform of embarkation this must be!
Walker No. 4
I have known Walker No. 4 both professionally, socially and as a neighbour. She is an unquestionable wit and can always be assured to enliven a conversation. Her particular poetic talent is the ability to report events without obfuscation or detachment! She is brash almost irreverent and says it like it is! That I find is an endearing talent and one which promises instant absorption. As though my final meeting of the day with her were the icing on the cake, we contented ourselves to recapitulate the inconsequential details of the last forty-eight hours or so. This gentle and soothing sociability enabled me to land peacefully at my home destination.