Y2K: A Time for Reflection and Connection
Anne Coscarelli, Ph.D.
I want to take this opportunity time to raise some questions about the meaning of the new century. Like a cancer diagnosis, it becomes a moment in time when we can pause amid life as we know and take a deep breath. It affords an opportunity to reflect on our past and our future as individuals and as a collective community. The new century signifies both an ending and a beginning. What knowledge, experiences, emotions and commitments can we ponder, carry forward and/or discard?
In the past century, we have seen tremendous change and progress. We might characterize this past century as one in which communication powers and the ability to transport exceeded our imaginations. The technological breakthroughs in communication patterns that marked the early part of the century became transformed into wireless connections and travels through cyberspace, a plane that 50 years ago we did not know existed. In these new frontiers and planes of travel, we have come to expect that information is at our disposal and that almost everything should be instantaneous. As I sit and write this column, I am reminded that it is taking seven minutes to create a report and that time is being wasted. Ten years ago, it would have taken days of slave labor to create that report, but now its creation and delivery in a matter of minutes is not fast enough.
There seems to be so many things that we cannot wait for or and do not have the time for anymore. We live in an age where we do not talk to our neighbors and yet we communicate by e-mail with someone on the other side of the world with whom we have never physically seen or touched. I wonder whether we are becoming more connected or less so? Have we sacrificed some of the most important parts of our human connections for speed, immediacy, and for what?
As a psychologist, I worry about our human needs - those that are basic to our psychological well being. We learned that a baby monkey needed more than just an adequate feeding; those who thrived needed the comfort and touch of their mother. As adult human beings, we need that physical closeness of others. This need is amplified in times of crisis such as during the course of a life threatening illness. I think about our patients who receive a diagnosis of cancer, and how, at that moment, many report feeling isolated and alone. How do we bridge that gap? Words often fail us, yet an embrace or reaching out to touch can communicate love, support, and physical presence. Cyberspace and wireless communications leave out physical presence and touch. Do we too quickly assume that our physical presence is not needed or might not be welcomed? We might do well to examine the many barriers to this physical presence.
In reflection on this century, one thing that I conclude is that physical presence does matters. Recently, I sat with my mother while she died, and my physical presence mattered to both of us. Grandchildren and close friends came to her bedside hugging, kissing and whispering to her their love, and their physical presence mattered. I flew to a friend's wedding across the country, and my physical presence mattered. Patients walk through the Resource Center's door everyday, and their physical presence matters. Seeing that smile, embracing that body, hearing that cry firsthand creates a connectedness that cannot be duplicated. It is experiential for all who partake.
I fear that as we move further out into cyberspace, we will forget this essential part of who we are as individuals and our need for community. We can easily assume that physical presence is not really needed, and we can give in to the barriers that exist. I am not suggesting that we do not embrace the future and what it brings. I am emphasizing the need to carry forward important pieces of the past that, if lost, may leave us with holes that cannot be filled and may grow greater when the twists and turns of life leave us feeling frightened and alone. Shouldn't this be a time to reach out to those who that are close to us, with physical and emotional presence? I see these final moments as we move toward the turn of the century as a unique time for reflection and, as the century turns, as a time to gather family, friends, and community and feel each other's presence. In doing so, we will be connected in a way that only touch can bring.
In the new millennium, I can promise that our Center and my staff will continue to work with caring, compassion, communication and commitment in our hearts, and that we will be here with a physical presence. While we always will always aim look to provide the best information and resources, we will remember that a touch of the hand and an embrace may be equally as important for all of us.
Anne Coscarelli, Ph.D.
Wallis Annenberg Director’s Initiative in Psychosocial Oncology
© Anne Coscarelli, Ph.D. All rights reserved.