By Staci Taustine
Do you remember the Craigslist Missed Connections?
If you recall a time before the Craigslist Killer and when it was perfectly acceptable to find your roommate amongst the many ads, then you might recall the cultural phenomenon read often by true romantics who love(ed) to believe in happenstance, meet-cutes, and the impossibly/semi-possible chance that two people who cross paths in a moment might find a way to reconnect.
A missed connection as seen on Craigslist is a type of personal advertisement which arises after two people meet but are too shy or otherwise unable to exchange contact details. The "Missed Connections" section of Craigslist got thousands of ads of this type every month in New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Now, a shell of what it used to be, the cultural phenomenon is virtually unknown to many in the post Reddit era we live in.
But, I reference this notorious artifact for good reason.
There is a missed connection of sorts I have been sitting on for what will be almost 6 years in June.
It’s not the romantic kind but rather a transcendent exchange I would say I owe my life to
(at least figuratively)
So, I thought why not share it now.
If it were a missed connection it would read something like this:
Mt Sinai Hospital Emergency Room - approx 4:30 am June 11, 2016- w4m (Upper East Side)
I was unconscious in the waiting room before I made it to a
table under a bunch of bright fluorescent lights. My face was fully made up from a night out dancing in Brooklyn - my favorite Revlon lip stain (in faithful fawn- it seriously earns its long-stay description) -with a cute navy and white striped crop I took the tags off to wear for the first time that day. Ragged sweatpants hanging from my hips in tatters- replacing the matching skirt I’d lost somewhere along the way.
The pain was unbearable and I felt a kind of tired I could only describe as a last kind of tired- as if I fell asleep it might be the deepest sleep I would ever have - the kind I was eager to embrace to escape the sharp, jagged feeling of knives in my stomach.
I wavered back and forth between darkness and the pain, stuck somewhere in between.
The sounds of busyness flurrying around me - still, I felt so far away and it was clear that I couldn’t participate.
I felt someone to my right with a clipboard pressed against my arm and noise I couldn’t place.
Then, there was you.
Your touch was warm and your pinch was firm. I could barely make out the details of your face as I faded in and out. But, I heard your words as you pinched my left big toe. You said, “we are going to take care of you, I promise.”
I didn’t know you ( I still don’t)- but I believed you.
I know now that you would never find out that I have never forgotten that squeeze.
This missed connection is one that I will never forget because in that tiny gesture you did more for me than some people do for others in a lifetime.
That’s why this missed connection has lessons for all of us:
1. Every Moment Matters
In an ER the value of a second is hardly lost on those who save lives and watch them slip away. But, for the rest of us who are counting down minutes until our Peloton ride is over or calculating days in the office before PTO it is easy to watch time fade quickly before our eyes. We hear people say things like the days go slow and the years go fast because we are predisposed to take our time for granted. Every. Little. Moment. Counts.
It is what we do with our moments that leads to a purposeful life well-lived. We can decide to make the extra call to a family member or friend just because we want to say hi. We can squeeze in an extra bedtime story or bring our partner coffee in bed. There are a million ways to spend our little moments. The second it took to squeeze my toe, you gave me hope. You let me know that even if I couldn’t see you, I could feel you were there and know that I wasn’t alone.
2. Connection(s) Sustain Us
It is no secret that humans crave belonging. We derive energy from being in relationship with others and we hurt deeply when we sense that we are alone. The feeling of “aloneness” doesn’t just occur when you are whisked away in an ambulance or fighting for our life. There are so many ways in which people can feel emotionally, spiritually or physically isolated. Two plus years into a global pandemic and it is more clear than ever that close ties and loose ties are critical in sustaining our own wellness. Connections, however temporary they may be, all serve a purpose.
In this story, a brief moment of connection helped me to believe in the possibility of a tomorrow for myself. What might eye contact and a genuine thank you mean when accepting food from your DoorDash driver?
Genuine connection looks, sounds, and feels like showing a person through a verbal or non-verbal exchange a degree of kindness that is not required. It happens because you make the choice to connect- to welcome the understanding between two parties that regardless of how the exchange turns out, it was worth it to you to invest in this very moment.
3. Our Actions and Words Leave A Lasting Impression
However fleeting some moments are, actions and words live on. For better AND worse.
If you are like me you have never forgotten the fateful words uttered by a bully on the school bus or the wicked fight with a sibling that tore you apart for years. You cannot blot from your memory the time you said something you would do anything to take back, and it feels like beautiful things can be destroyed in one fell swoop.
This is because our words have weight. They reflect our values, priorities and choices. What we choose to say and do determine the relationships we have and keep. For everything we choose to say there are things that go equally unsaid--- those things matter also.
Compliments, sweet gestures, small acts of compassion, forgiveness, and offered help are among the menu of options available to us everyday.
When we choose to step outside of ourselves to see others, listen to others, ask about their experiences and begin to know them we are presented with the chance to leave an impression.
There are thousands of “forgettable” moments a day and yet, thousands of opportunities to make moments that stand the test of time.
4. Bedside Manner Isn’t Just For Doctors
So, if there are so many opportunities a day why do we miss so many? The truth is life is hard. It feels like there are too many priorities and not enough time to tackle them. Many of us are running on empty and face barriers (both real and perceived). We are in a rush to meet a pressing deadline, we are overextended; we have a goal that is paramount and other people are depending on us. So we rush. We rush to complete what is required for who, by when, and with accuracy wherever possible. We are in our heads and we are already making sacrifices to get to this very moment.
In the ER, there are more patients than beds, more ailments to heal than doctors to heal them, and more beeping/ clamoring than can be attended to no matter how hard the nursing staff tries. Yet, these people who are in such high demand are called to perform because lives are on the line- LITERALLY.
Performing for them looks like preserving life. Successfully operating. Preventing Death and if at all possible- healing. Some (like Dr. Kind) of the aforementioned missed connections are doing so with as much attention to HOW as they are the WHAT.
They are saving lives, yes, but doing so while validating an individual’s pain, listening deeply, and seeing each individual as a whole person as much as a patient .
At times it must be nearly impossible- but yet when someone does it makes all the difference.
The same is true for the rest of us who scurry onto Zoom to meet our co-workers or scramble over/around people to catch the next subway. What if we slowed down ever so slightly to tend to our own HOW?
How are we holding the door for the person running to catch the train behind us? How are we opening the 5th meeting of the day with a quick go around about how folks are feeling about their day?
What if we asked each other to be good at what we do and care as much about how we do it in the process?
Chances are everything might feel just 10% more worthwhile when we cross the finish line.
5. We are Inclined to Pay It Forward
Dr. Kind fulfilled his responsibility to me as a patient. He played a part (or so I am told in patching the giant hole in my intestines and intervening when I was septic). He also did more than that…he cared for the lost, scared version of me on the table that day by simply promising me I was in good hands.
I remember him though he (like most other missed connections) will never remember me- And there is something beautiful in that. When we experience kindness it seems to seep in through our pores and take up residence there waiting for us to sweat it back out into the world. As if being bestowed with thoughtfulness by someone expecting nothing in return frees us up to go out there and bring the same kindness where it may be needed.
So, Dr. Kind of Mt. Sinai ER, I'm luckier than ever to have the beautiful life I do and I’ll never forget that squeeze.
Today, I make it my life’s work to be a metaphorical big toe squeeze in times of struggle, chaos, crossroad, and opportunity because we are all in this together and we have big things to do.
Special Note(s): Thank you to the medical community who have (and continue to) put their lives on the line everyday during the COVID-19 Pandemic to save lives, care for strangers, and sacrifice in ways most of us can hardly fathom.
If you are super into Missed Connections it seems like there may be a NYC revival