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A nudge from Naurine

Three decades ago, a British anthropologist/psychologist, Robin Dunbar, declared that 150 is “the biological limit for the number of people with whom one can have a meaningful relationship.”

The definition of “meaningful” went something like this: “Those people you know well enough to greet warmly without feeling awkward if you ran into them unexpectedly in an airport lounge.”

Dunbar’s observations were observational, but they caught on. Not all psychological theorists agree, but many believe “we can expect in our lifetime to develop 150 productive bonds, but we have our most intimate and therefore our most connected relationships with only about five to 15 of our closest friends.”

One of the meaningful relationships in my lifetime ended this past week when my friend and mentor Naurine McCormick died at the age of 96. A long-term presence in Southern Oregon with whom I would, once each week, spend time — Buddha-like in her recliner, her feet elevated, a colorful throw covering her legs, a book in her lap, easy-to-reach sweet treats and her Bible nearby, and we would talk. Well, mostly, she would talk, and I would listen.

Naurine was an encyclopedia of interesting stories on topics that ranged from geographic hotspots in the world to the history of the women’s movement. We never discussed the Dunbar Theory, but we talked about everything else. Throughout the decades I knew and loved her, Naurine filled me with information and affirmation.

With thoughtful reflection, she shared growing up in rural poverty and becoming an accomplished academic at the same time she was a caregiver for a dying husband and later the sole provider for her two sons. Naurine’s life stories were totally engaging — further enhanced by her active imagination and an attentive audience.

If you were fully in her graces and pegged the right topic upon which Naurine wanted to wax eloquent, you might receive the additional gift of her hearty, deep-throated laugh. I think of her laugh today. I have missed it. Because of COVID and my own re-location at a distance from her assisted living environment, I did not see Naurine for over a year prior to her death.

Today I am remembering how we shared ideas about authors and the titles of books we were reading. She would have laughed a little at the premise, I think, but would consider reading the book I recently finished, Elin Hildebrand’s “Golden Girl.” The main character dies early in the novel, and the encounter with this author’s version of Heaven involves the deceased individual receiving a designated “Person,” who is already a resident of Heaven and can help the Spirit transition. In this novel, the person who dies can offer Afterlife “nudges” to friends and family who might need improved perspective. Just maybe it was a reflective nudge from Naurine that prompted me to write about her today.

This I know: whatever Heaven looks like, Naurine is on her way. And if she has, in fact, been given a “Person” to guide her, that lucky Soul can anticipate a very meaningful relationship.

Sharon Johnson is a retired educator. Reach her at Sharjohn99@gmail.com.