Recently, I have been lucky enough to experience a number of inconveniences in my life.
Last week, for example, 22 inconvenient inches of snow trapped several cars on the corner in front of my house, and I helped push them out. A few weeks before that, only one of our own cars was working, and I had a family emergency. I had to inconveniently beg a ride to the airport from friends and strangers.
Every month, the lines at the grocery store seem to get longer, and I have been forced to chat with several complete strangers, make eye contact, and laugh at the same ridiculous inconvenience together.
Yet, those inconveniences brought more than just aggravation. Because of the snow, I met more of my neighbors in a few days than I had after two years of living on the same block. On that drive to the airport with a stranger, I gained some multi-generational insight on life in this valley. While repeatedly telling my kids to “Look with their eyes [at the candy], and not their hands,” at the grocery store, I bonded with other local mothers who also have infuriating toddlers.
I could have avoided all of those inconveniences easily. Never doing anything we don’t want to do is just a few clicks away, in fact, and billions of marketing dollars are spent every year to remind us of that fact. We are told to collect gadgets and buy services that bring everything we could possibly want to our literal doorstep. We are promised that we will be happier, prettier and better rested if we opt for convenience every time.
While it is not some sort of moral failure to use the conveniences of modern technology when we need to, the reality is that everything comes at a cost. The longer it takes us to recognize that cost, the higher it often is.
In this case, community is the cost of convenience.
Inconvenience is often what brings us together. Don’t have a working car? Share a ride and a conversation. Can’t manage to check out all your groceries in the self-checkout line? Meet the awesome Joshes at City Market. Tired and stressed after work? Individual screens build an instant wall between you and potentially demanding family members.
Community is not one single item to be misplaced by a generation. It is, perhaps, better described as a web of tiny filaments, almost meaningless on their own.
Yet those meaningless threads are what connect us to each other, and enough of them together form a strong and complex web — the web that catches the ones who would otherwise fall through the cracks. It is the support network we look to when luck runs out. It is the feeling of belonging, of being seen and valued.
Unfortunately, we grew up with the narrative that each of us must become a complete island unto ourselves. Needing anything from anyone is viewed as a kind of failure. In some ways, especially for those of us who identify as defiantly independent introverts, this can be a very tempting option. Why make small talk with strangers when you could spend the evening in your own tiny kingdom, windows drawn to the cold?
Inconvenience used to require people to meet each other in public places.
Now, personal shoppers spar in the produce section so you don’t have to. Even local restaurants can have delivery through apps like DoorDash and Grubhub. We never have to ride the bus or carpool when every self-respecting household must own two cars at least. Screens are waiting to entertain us so that no one has to make small talk in line at Target or while waiting for an oil change, and of course, Amazon will drop anything off at our doorstep. Anything.
Because we can curate our social interactions entirely due to these conveniences, we never have to meet people with whom we don’t agree. In this way, we are seeing the first bills come due for our convenient lifestyle. Enough tiny threads have been snipped, enough inconvenient moments erased that we have forgotten how to talk to people who make us feel awkward or uncomfortable.
In this valley, we are also seeing the cost in the loss of a sense of belonging, in increased isolation, and the rise of an echo that makes one wonder whether their existence matters at all.
Because when we stop seeing inconvenient people completely, we forget that there are others in the world who neither look nor think like we do. We forget that we all have the same struggles. We forget that we do matter because of how we are connected to the lives around us.
So, go out into the world and be inconvenienced. Roll your eyes and make funny, sarcastic comments to complete strangers who can appreciate it. Stand only inches away from someone with whom you have nothing else in common except that it is taking that lady at the front of the line five minutes to write out a personal check.