When the movie Funny Girl came out in 1968, my mom, dad, and I all rushed out to see it. Not only had my dad been dear friends with the subject of the film -- Fanny Brice, her son, Billy, remained my dad's closest male friend throughout his life. Furthermore the film starred the incomparable Barbra Streisand, whose voice my father (and pretty much everyone else on the planet) absolutely adored.
Of course, we all loved the movie, though my main concern at age six, was figuring out whether Omar Sharif was actually Billy's father. But in addition to having a wonderful evening, my father came away with his theme song for life: People.
It begins: "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world."
My father truly believed that. He felt that his life was so extraordinary precisely because he KNEW that he needed and loved people -- and so he nurtured and fostered those heart connections.
His feelings about people, however, often became a point of conflict between him and his wives. Although both my mother and Coral claimed to "love" people as much as he did, eventually they became threatened by my father's deep friendships, as well as his unending and omnivorous appetite for human connection. They wanted and expected to be first in his life. But although he loved them both, he loved people -- all people -- most of all.
In retrospect, I think my dad understood what the Harvard study I wrote about in a recent post came to discover: In everything that comes into play over the course of our human lives, it is our relationships that determine the quality of our lives and our happiness.
I have become a curious mix of both parents. On the one hand, I love nothing more than connecting with total strangers and really getting to know them.
This week, as we witness yet another horrific bombing in Kabul, it hits home for me even more because I spent a 45-minute Uber ride with an Afghani father of four, who had to flee his country at age sixteen, to escape the escalating conflict during the early 1990s. He went first to Pakistan with his uncle, where he finished his studies and met his wife to be. From there, he went on to Saudi Arabia, but eventually he ended up in London, where he has lived for the past sixteen years. He works as a butcher and a Uber driver. His parents and one brother and sister still live in Kabul, but he has not seen them since 2013, because it is not safe to go there now. He has lived his life away from his family and his hometown, not by choice, but as an act of survival.
We spoke deeply for the whole ride -- of Kabul, of family, of his own children, who are studying architecture in Pakistan. Of what it was like to have to leave home suddenly as a teenager just to have a chance of surviving. What I learned from my dad and now deeply understand is that to talk intensely and honestly with a total stranger brings that stranger into your heart. It will forever be impossible for me to hear about Kabul now without thinking of him and his family.
Every day I have conversations like these. They change me. They change how I understand the world. The people I meet form the tapestry of my life. I carry them in my heart.
But where I have differed from my father is in my human connections with my circle of friends. Although I love my friends, I have never been very good at staying in touch with most of them. I float in and out of people's lives, and mostly they tolerate it. But lately, I am beginning to feel that something is changing. In me.
On this trip, I am getting to spend time with two dear dear friends I have known for over 25 years. We don't see one another all the time, because we all live peripatetic lives, but each time we connect, we pick up right where we have left off. On this trip to England, I also reconnected with newer friends I am getting to know more deeply. As I do, I find myself feeling more and more grateful for our growing friendships. This is what made me think of my dad -- and his love of that Funny Girl lyric, "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world."
I think the reason that song never resonated for me as it did for him is because I have wanted to believe that I didn't NEED anything. Let alone anything human that could feel like weakness or neediness, that could fail or hurt me. I have wanted to see myself as my mother saw herself -- independent and self-sufficient. In many ways, her teaching was a gift. She helped me become a woman who feels strong and at home wherever I am in the world. But the trust is that my mother was isolated at the end, and in her isolation, she became increasingly fearful, judgmental, and rigid. It did not serve her finally. She knew that, but she could not stop being who she believed she was and was meant to be.
My father, on the other hand, moved through the world with the assurance of knowing that he could find a heart connection anywhere -- with his oldest friends to someone he met on an airplane. He did not approach these connections from neediness, however, which is how I had read that word "need" in the song lyric. In fact, it was quite the opposite. My father knew that he needed human interaction as his means of expressing and extending Love. He understood that that is ALL we are here to do -- to express and extend Love to one another. To need to do that is not neediness, I see now, any more than needing to breathe.
A few nights ago, my friend Sarah and I were sharing a wonderful meal in a charming pub deep in the heart of the English countryside. We had taken a beautiful drive over rolling green hills dotted with sheep and horses and impossibly idyllic views. We had strolled through beautiful villages built of ochre Cotswald stone with charming thatched roofs and nestled in gardens brimming in fragrant roses. I had a smile on my face that would not go away.
As she often does when we see one another and have a really deep talk, Sarah reminded me of what friendship means: I will always be here, she tells me each time she sees, even when you go away. She says "when" not "if" now, because going away is what she has come to expect of me. She knows I will disappear and reappear and then disappear again.
The other night, however, when I tried to explain to her why I disappear, suddenly, my words felt hollow. They felt like an old script I had learned when I was playing the character of a young woman who craved autonomy and adventure. They didn't feel like my lines in my script any more. They didn't feel like me.
Me, the words that express the me I am becoming, feel more like the very simple ones I wrote in my journal yesterday morning on the train to Paris from London: "The biggest gift of this trip to England was really understanding that friends are to be cherished. Always."
Maybe those words seem ridiculously obvious to all of you. But to really feel them, as I have on this trip, is changing me. It has made me see that need is not neediness. It does not imply weakness. In fact, it is the greatest strength we have, as individuals on this planet -- to understand, and so nurture, our fundamental interconnection and oneness. When we believe we don't need one another, we make decisions as though what we do affects no one but ourselves. But everything we do touches others! So, what we NEED is to understand that and move through our lives, our friendships, and our connections from our hearts out.
We know this when we're children, which is why every spiritual tradition reminds us to become like little children, to rediscover beginner's mind. And in fact, that's actually what the next lines of my dad's favorite song says:
We're children, needing other children
And yet letting a grown-up pride
Hide all the need inside
Acting more like children than children
When I was a little girl, I knew I needed my friends. I needed to love them as much as I needed them to love me. I needed those connections that made me feel whole, not because I was needy, but because I KNEW I was here to love. Somewhere along the line, I lost that simple thread.
Kahlil Gibran so beautifully captures that paradox:
“One day you will ask me which is more important? My life or yours? I will say mine and you will walk away not knowing that you are my life.”
We are all one another's lives. It's that simple.
We can't love in isolation.
We can't feel whole, if we believe we are all separate.
That's why people need people: Because we are here to love.
I understand that now in a way I never did before. And it feels so so good.
To quote another classic musical from the 1960s, By George, I think she's got it:
WE ARE ALL HERE TO LOVE: ONE ANOTHER, OUR PLANET, THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD.