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Richard M. Cohen Headshot

Searching for Community

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This is a season of contradictions for many. The chronically ill feel the tug of Dr. Doolittle's push-me-pull-you character. We isolate ourselves, instinctively pulling away from others. This is an automatic response to the stress of sickness for many. Yet the holidays push us close to family and friends in our lives, the very people who know and love us.

And even as we withdraw into ourselves, we feel a pull toward others who share our conditions. I battle multiple sclerosis every day of my life, and I belong to the exclusive club of cancer survivors. Sometimes, the sick join affinity groups, single illness advocacy and service organizations. They hold a special place in our lives. For some, these groups become almost a family, an important support system.

People like us are our brothers and sisters, ready to help in any way they can. The ALS community in California has been known to help each other shop, pick up essential supplies, even to help others move into new homes that meet their needs. Their commitment to each other seems boundless.

There is no contradiction here. We still may feel withdrawn, but we need some human connection. We need to give and get support from each other. We do not have to go on and on about our conditions to our comrades, only to know they get it. This becomes a special comfort zone we enter, a safe place where we can just be with others like ourselves.

We do not isolate ourselves from the chronically healthy in anger. It is only good defensive football. Silently, we hope to walk with them someday. In the end, that single word, hope, may explain what community is all about. People who know our shoes reassure, even inspire. In the lives of those surviving sickness we see our own. And so we find acceptance. We are not damaged goods to each other, only human beings in pain.