A broken femur that has healed is evidence that another person has taken time to stay with the … [+]
Australian National University
Because my immunity is compromised, I am self isolating for the next 12 weeks, or more. It’s what the UK government has directed, and it’s for my own good. But it means I can’t volunteer to help others in ways that I’d like to right now. I can’t, for instance, go shopping for elderly friends or neighbors. Yet, there are still ways I can contribute, even in isolation. I can coach online and I can share stories, like this one. So, what is it about being human that makes us feel better when we help others?
Years ago, the anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about clay pots, tools for hunting, grinding-stones, or religious artifacts.
But no. Mead said that the first evidence of civilization was a 15,000 years old fractured femur found in an archaeological site. A femur is the longest bone in the body, linking hip to knee. In societies without the benefits of modern medicine, it takes about six weeks of rest for a fractured femur to heal. This particular bone had been broken and had healed.
Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, you cannot drink or hunt for food. Wounded in this way, you are meat for your predators. No creature survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. They are eaten first.
A broken femur that has healed is evidence that another person has taken time to stay with the fallen, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended them through recovery. A healed femur indicates that someone has helped a fellow human, rather than abandoning them to save their own life.
This week, I received a note from a woman who lives close to my parents, (combined age 166) now in isolation at their home in Grantchester, England. This woman who I have met only once before, knew that I too was in self-isolation and could not therefore help my parents, so was offering to take care of them, should they need it.
“ I am happy to bike down and have a conversation through the door with them. I am also happy, if anything goes wrong, to look after them.
So use me and rest assured if things go wrong I will look after them as if they were my own parents.”
Whether or not they ultimately accept this offer, I feel hugely relieved to know, not only that my mom and dad have someone nearby who can help out, if necessary, but that such warm and generous neighbors exist. This love was there all along, of course, but the current crisis allows it to be seen. It makes me feel warmer, safer and better about living in Britain to know such altruism is close at hand.
“Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts,” Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can’t change the world; For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”
Try This At Home
Even if you can’t leave the house to share your love in practical ways, I encourage you to try out this visualization, which Renee Nash, founder of K R Alliance Coaching, first shared with me. I have no evidence that it helps anyone other than me. Yet, it only takes a few minutes a day, and you too may find it comforting and empowering.
Close your eyes and lay down, inhaling and exhaling deeply and slowly.
Once you’ve regulated your breathing to long slow breaths, focus your energy on the beating of your heart.
Random thoughts may enter your mind, but send them away.
Focus on the beating of your heart, and give thanks for the wonderful job it does of keeping you alive, without you even being aware of it.
Now, imagine the energy coming from your heart as the energy of love, bringing sustenance and peace to all beings.
Give that energy a color that most represents love, for you.
Now imagine your love filling the whole of your body, from your toes to your heels, to your ankles to your knees. Right up your legs. In the center of your stomach, to the top of your chest, your shoulders, your arms and your fingers. Feel the colorful energy filling your head.
And now imagine that energy of love moving out from your body to fill the whole room.
Now, it’s filling the whole of your home. Every person, every animal, plant and insect under your roof.
Imagine the colorful energy of love filling your whole neighborhood. Every living being in your neighborhood is being filled with your love.
The love from your heart is spreading to everyone in your community.
And now, it’s spreading to the whole country, bringing love, sustenance and peace to all beings.
Focus back on your breathing and imagine the powerful love from your heart spreading out over every country to every living thing in the world.