Indulge me. Last week’s Musing had to do with two separate streams coming together to form a mightier river. This week, I thought to ponder the nature—the power—that comes from and through unification. Don’t get me wrong: singleness, individuality, uniqueness—they’re all wonderful qualities that have the capability to create and thrive all on their own. It’s even possible that in some cases, less really is more. But without wanting to cast even the tiniest shadow of doubt over the power of one, I want to make a case for the higher power of two. Or, for that matter, more.
We all know some things just pair well together. What’s yin without yang? Peanut butter without jelly? Me without you? I could write the proverbial great American novel, but without you to read it, it would sit silently on a shelf, a lonely, literary masterpiece. We—writers and readers—need each other. It’s just simple symbiosis: the interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both. In fact, in today’s world, “close physical association” is a highly relative term: I have friends who live many months of the year in London: we’re not physically close while they’re away, but in every other sense of the word, we always are.
Closer to home, I have neighbors who are building a significant addition to their home. For the past several weeks, we’ve been living yards away from a construction site, but that’s not the point. I watch the workers next door and I’m struck by two obvious facts. One: it takes a team to build an addition; it’s too big a job for one man. Two: almost every one of the laborers toiling away out there in the cold are come from away, probably from Central America is my guess. Without their energy, sweat and good cheer, my friends’ addition wouldn’t be rising; without my friends contract, these men and women wouldn’t be building a better life for themselves and their families. Talk all you want about border security, but be honest enough to admit that a lot of the hard work that happens in America today wouldn’t get done if not for the men and women who make the long journey here and are willing to work cold, hard hours for minimal wages. If that’s not a compelling case for symbiosis, I don’t know what is.
There is, of course, another side to this story; there always is. Many people fear either the unknown or change, and there’s little doubt that America is changing and our future is murky. While I personally don’t see a zero-sum game in symbiosis, many people do. They assume that one someone is elevated, someone else is diminished. I look out my window at all the construction activity next door and see the rising tide that’s floating all the boats in the harbor.
You may not believe this, but I am, by nature, an introvert. I am also married to the queen of extroverts. Our separate natures can, at times, be challenging, but I know in my heart that we’re better off together. There is an old African proverb that goes like this: “if we want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk together.” In a world where step-counting has become a mantra for good health, that makes a lot of sense.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.net.