February 13th was International Epilepsy Day.
Every year until this one, it passed by me unnoticed. The same can be said for a lot of days like it—those that recognize illnesses, conditions, groups, or experiences shared by the many or few. If I or someone close to me didn’t share that particular experience, it wasn’t likely to appear on my radar.
It’s a sad truth, and it was the case for World Epilepsy Day, because I never personally knew anyone whom epilepsy affected. It was different this year, because now I do—me.
Epilepsy is a disruption to electrical activity in the brain that leads to changes in movement and awareness. My ancestors were with me on the day I was diagnosed, because if the seizure had happened just a few minutes later I would have been behind the wheel of a car on the Autobahn. I also happened to be traveling in the “neurological center” of Europe—I received an MRI less than sixty minutes later.
I’m fortunate to have been in such a lucky situation, and for the opportunity to reflect in the months that have passed. My thoughts keep coming back to the “human condition”—nobody is perfect, and no body is permanent. Something about the human condition can make it difficult to give voice, attention, consideration, or awareness to another’s lived experience when it’s different from our own. But something about the human condition makes it possible—we can give attention, we can be empathetic, we can feel connected to others’ lives and the world, no matter any differences or distance apart.
Human connection is an incredible gift. We can feel it on an interpersonal level with the people we interact with, or on a universal level that transcends direct contact. The power of connection can be summed up succinctly: When we feel connected, we treat others well; we aim every action, decision, or word at improving people’s lives, brightening their days, adding to—not subtracting from—their experiences of the world. On an individual level, you can understand yourself perfectly, know everything about the world, and have the competence to do anything you set your mind to doing. But you still need connection to set your mind on a positive path—away from cruelty, and toward contribution.
Individually, nationally, and as a global community, we can all strive to feel more closely connected. In schools, we can teach kids to add to the world—to develop self-understanding, knowledge, competency, and a sense of connection, which together are the tools for the task. As humans, no matter the day of the year, let’s practice awareness, empathy, kindness, compassion, connection, and the art of contribution—with everyone, wherever they are in the world.
The simple reason for doing so is the beautiful gift at the heart of the human condition: we can.