A month ago, my son Noah pulled a hamstring lunging for a forehand while playing tennis after work with a client and friend. His opponent drove him to our house a few minutes away to assess the damage.
All of us discussed the injury, and I suggested we call Keith, a doctor and friend of 30 years, to diagnose it. “Risa, ask him if he’ll come over,” I proposed. I handed her the cell phone to call. It was dinnertime on a Monday in July. I figured there was a good chance we would find him at home.
“I’ll be there in 10 minutes,” he said, and he was. He diagnosed the injury and told Noah he didn’t need to go to the emergency room. We pulled out the Elasto-Gel cold packs always waiting in our freezer. Keith stayed for a while to talk. The conversation shifted back and forth between discussing the injury and pizza restaurants in Chicago.
Noah stayed at our house several days, and our business client spent the night as well, which turned out to be a great chance to get to know him better.
When Noah called his wife to tell her about the injury, she was astonished that we could call a doctor and he would interrupt his dinner and immediately drive over. Noah explained that Keith was a close friend and a member of the community. It was just natural that he would do it.
I remembered that 13 years earlier Keith drove 60 miles to be with Risa and our family when I was drugged in a hospital bed, teetering between life and death after a heart attack and stent, struggling to gain the strength to undergo quadruple bypass surgery.
Risa had taught Keith’s daughter for many years before she succumbed to a horrible genetic malady. She was more than just her private teacher. She was virtually a part of her family as the child suffered crisis after crisis, yet maintained her spirit.
When I had my second grand mal seizure three months ago in Palo Alto, my daughter, Sarah, called a doctor friend at midnight to come over to check me out and lay out my options. She arrived in a couple minutes, though I don’t even remember the visit. She arranged to get me into Stanford hospital with a minimum of rigmarole. It’s what people who are a part of your community do for friends.
I am writing this piece not to enumerate Graff family health emergencies, but to discuss friends, family, and community that are becoming harder to come by these days as we forsake organizations and tribes, religious institutions, sewing circles, and men’s baseball leagues that used to pull us together over long periods of time.
We also move more and further away from each other, which dilutes communities and tribes. Screens also deprive us of personal contact that in-person meetings and dinner parties and barbecues used to irrigate.
Kids teams were excellent meeting areas for parents and children, but today sports have become more specialized. Parents hook their kids up with personal coaches to help them get college scholarships. The best players are siphoned off into elite amateur teams so local parents lose the incubating arena for long-term friendships.
Families used to be mini tribes, with big weekend dinners prepared by a matriarch. With women working almost universally, there is little time and energy to devote to pulling families together in that way. These days, young men and women use their independence to move away from the fold.
I am grateful that our immediate family got together for a week recently in South Haven, Michigan, after almost two years of separation. The great feeling of having the tribe together, not on Zoom, was a blessing.
Family, community, games at almost midnight. No substitute for it. Especially when it seems so rare today.
Question: When was the last time you got together with your family in person?