Recently, when I was rereading Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, I was very struck by this observation about the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire:
The death of Guillaume Apollinaire at this time made a very serious difference to all his friends apart from their sorrow at his death. It was the moment just after the war when many things had changed and people naturally fell apart. Guillaume would have been a bond of union, he always had a quality of keeping people together, and now that he was gone everybody ceased to be friends.
The “quality of keeping people together” seems an important and rare attribute, and although it doesn’t come naturally to me, I’m trying to do a better job of it myself, and also to appreciate more the work of the Apollinaire-ish types whose efforts benefit me.
This quality has been on my mind since the sad occasion of a memorial service of a friend. I knew her in a work context, but at the service, I realized from the tributes of her college friends that, along with many other wonderful traits, she had the “quality of keeping people together” from that time.
My sister is this way, too, and from watching her in action, I know how much energy and time it takes to act like glue, to make the efforts that allow people to stay close.
Who coaxes people into showing up to the reunion? Who remembers everyone’s birthdays, and insists that everyone get together to mark the occasion? Who plans the promotion celebration? Who organizes the group wedding gift? Who keeps track of everyone’s addresses? Who sends out the group emails? It doesn’t sound very hard—until you’re the one doing it.
And although it’s a lot of work, it’s all too easy for people to take these efforts for granted, or not to realize how important one person is to the strength of a particular web of relationships. In fact, that person might well be teased for these efforts, and instead of people being appreciative and cooperative, they might act jaded and superior to such gung-ho antics.
Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: one of the keys—perhaps the key—to happiness is strong relationships, and the often unsung work of such folks to keep up a “bond of union” makes a tremendous difference to everyone in their circles.
How about you? Do you have the “quality of keeping people together”? Do you feel that your efforts are appreciated? If you don’t naturally play this role, have you found strategies to work at it?
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