I paid a posthumous visit this week to the world I once lived in—-a Manhattan gathering of privileged people giving money and time to a cause of caring and concern.
Nothing has changed. The well-to-do and a few celebrities mingle at a reception and then sit in an auditorium to applaud expressions of social and political decency. The faces are new, but they belong to people trying to reach out past the solitude of their own skins, just as my generation had done.
In very old age, all this brings sadness at how hard it still is to make human connection, even after science and technology have transcended the physical isolation of a century ago when loving thy neighbor may have been difficult because choices were so limited.
Now we are all neighbors, but is there more hatred than love? In the turbulent 1960s, the psychoanalyst-philosopher Erich Fromm was preoccupied with what he called "The Myth of Care." Amid social upheaval and rage about Vietnam, the author of "The Art of Loving" and "The Sane Society" kept searching newspapers and TV screens for images of people reaching out, helping and comforting one another.
He found them but, if he were still alive, what would he see today? Bitter discord over the apparently senseless killing of a young boy on his way home. Hate and fear-mongering in the presidential primaries. Road rage over high gas prices.
The social and political landscape is looking more and more like the last scene of "The Bridge on the River Kwai," a dazed doctor amid carnage mumbling "Madness, madness."
Yet there is a new hint of hope from brain science: “If you’re in a healthy relationship, holding your partner’s hand is enough to subdue your blood pressure, ease your response to stress, improve your health and soften physical pain. We alter one another’s physiology and neural functions.”
Small rituals of caring and random acts of kindness to strangers may mount up to enough human love to save us all.
In a time when Dick Cheney has a new heart, can’t we all change our own enough to make a difference?