When the flower of a fruit tree is not visited by pollinating insects, it withers without ever bearing fruit. No longer able to attract people or nourish the birds, the flower becomes, in effect, lonely, its living connections severed and its links of belonging broken.
Just so, people need to be nourished by the presence of others: other people – but also plants, animals, works of art and so on. It is through such connections that they become part of a living community, nourished and nourishing in turn, in a web of mutual belonging.
In a rich human community, pollination is ensured by the many brief meetings that punctuate daily life: at home or at the market, at school or in church, in the park and in the street, at the corner store, at a restaurant… And whenever one of these places disappears, a link of belonging is broken along with it.
The ethnologist Konrad Lorenz had a maddening habit of being late for his classes at the Max Planck Institute in Munich. Walking to class, he would inevitably be delayed by unexpected encounters and other reasons to pause. His students, hoping to help keep him on track, traced the shortest route on a map and gave it to him to follow. The master followed their route for several days. But in their zeal for efficiency, the students had given no thought to the pleasures of the route. Gone were all the points of contact that filled Lorenz’s regular walk: the little shops along the way, the warm greetings of the shopkeepers, the human contact that started his day. Now he arrived on time – but in such bad humour that his students soon yearned for a return to his old ways. They had saved the master some time – but only at the expense of his humanity…and theirs.