For new members (and other new readers) of this column, it’s perhaps worth repeating that I grew up as part of a large Italian family with six older sisters. Some of my fondest memories are from Sunday family dinners that started at about noon, when we returned from church, and lasted until Wild Kingdom came on the television. During that span of likely eight hours, we seemed to eat continuously, played board games, laughed, and argued. It was a multigenerational affair with my maternal grandmother who frequently lived with us for months at a time, and my paternal grandfather who was widowed early. My grandfather enjoyed the chaotic scene, which was reminiscent of his lifelong experience growing up with his extended family on Capitol Hill, where there was a huge Italian community at that time.
If you’ve ever seen the movie, The Green Book, there’s a scene at the Christmas table that captures the essence of those Sunday dinners. In my family, everyone attended those dinners each Sunday, even when my sisters got married and had families of their own. The table just got bigger. That is, until people started moving out of the area. My family is now located in eight states and those major gatherings are a distant memory, except for the occasional “gatherings” by Zoom. But that’s the context that I have when I think about what it means to be deeply connected to others.
I bring up these experiences because I’ve been on a tear about the need to connect people and decrease loneliness as an important part of the Village’s mission. I’ve cited the US Surgeon General’s report on social isolation and highlighted the finding that the health effects of loneliness is equivalent to smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes each day. Now the World Health Organization has launched a global commission to tackle the epidemic of loneliness. WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus states that “one in four people experiences social isolation, with potential mental and physical health effects as a result. Loneliness increases the risk of dementia by up to 50%, and the risk of strokes and cardiovascular disease by around 30%.”