Friday, February 8, 2013

It takes a village - our whole life through

note to reader: suggestions in this particular entry may not be to everyone's liking. Succinctly put, communal utopia may not be for everyone...but if it might be for you - read on.

They say it takes a village, and we all know it's true. But when I hear that statement made, it's usually in reference to raising a child - "It takes a village to raise a child" are usually the literal words.

And it's true. But it doesn't stop there. It takes a village  - it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to guide a young adult, it takes a village to support a young married couple, it takes a village to strengthen a family, it takes a village to benefit from the wisdom of the elders, and it takes a village to care for the old. All our lives - we need that village.

I grew up in a village. Literally, I did. While the majority of my nights were spent in a home more similar to the one you're sitting in now than the mental image you have of 'village', my days and quite a few nights were spent exactly in that mental image village. Houses made out of mud and cow manure, goats bleating and cows mooing at sunrise and sunset, warm tea cooked over an open fire, no light expect for the moon at night and sun during the day, the smell of smoke and livestock permeating everything, eyes experiencing morning's first sunlight underneath the biggest expanse of sky you've ever seen, and legs given room to walk as far as the eye could see without ever coming upon another soul.

To know who is a part of the village, and recognize and welcome a stranger (and to recognize and beware of one coming with harm), to know my role, to know responsibilities to be met, to know how to see the needs of others and seek to meet them, to know how to not unnecessarily place my needs above anothers, to know how to recognize something out of place, to know what it is to be surrounded by care at every turn. 

I know what it is to be in a village.

And I know what it is to be in the city - for darkness to never fully come, for noise to never fully cease, for safety and security to grip tightly to, for schedules to follow, and for ease of life to be enjoyed.

For friends to live miles apart, and see eachother on coordinated schedules and chance meetings, for the options of things to do to be wonderfully endless,  for needs to be expressed in order to be seen, for being surrounded by life and people but many complete strangers, for technology to speed up the transfer of people, news, and encouragement at the most important times, for the village to be spread across miles but available at all times.

I've lived in them both. In a way, I am both. A part of me will never fully be at ease in the city, or anywhere other than under a Kenyan sky. Another part of me will never be fully at ease in the wild, or anywhere other than wrapped up in a bustling American city.

But wherever I go, wherever I am, I know, quite deeply, that it does indeed take a village. Here is the difference between the village I grew up in, and the village I'm trying to find now in the new city I live: the Maasai acknowledge they are a part of the village, they embrace it, they receive from it, and they give back to it. Everyone an active giver and a willing recipient.

I'm not sure how to say this without someone arguing with me, but that's fine, argue away - Americans don't know how to receive. We know how to take, we know how to be entitled, we know how to stake our claim, and protect our rights - but we don't know how to receive. I'll go a bit further - we know how to give, we know how to support, we know how to encourage. But we still struggle, I mean really struggle, with knowing how to receive.

Let me put it anecdotally - in Kenya, we were surrounded by people who offered us help and assistance when things were difficult, and dear friends who offered us love and companionship even in times of absolute success. I expected it to be difficult to find that here in Seattle, expected people to already have their established friend networks and be too busy to fit in the new girl, expected people to not really understand how much of a foreigner I was to the pacific northwest - and I felt absolutely fine about that possibility. Truly, absolutely fine.

But, as I began putting myself out there, striking up conversations with random moms at playgrounds, people at church, folks at the grocery store I found the opposite to be true. We've been in Seattle 7 weeks, though really only since the beginning of January, and in that time have made a broad enough network of friends that when the hubby traveled for a week, I had playdates every day, a friend volunteer to keep the kids for a morning so I could have a break, and 2 different couples offer to keep me company in the evening AND bring dinner. Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

I don't think it's a testament to how fabulous we are, or how lonely people are, or how pathetic we seem (though maybe?...) I think it is simply this - we say yes. When people say "oh, you're new to the area, do you have family in the area?" I let them know we don't, and that we're starting to build our network of friends - people often respond by offering to exchange numbers and get together.

When new friends said "do you need anything while you're husband is gone?" I said we would love company. When a friend offered to watch the kids, I accepted, gratefully - knowing I would offer her the same when the right time came.

Here's my summary - it does take a village, it takes a village the whole way through life. People need people. We absolutely do (though some of us more or less than others). It's fairly easy to offer help to someone, it feels good to take a meal to a friend, or keep someone company while they pack. But it feels differently to accept help (or even more so, to ask for help) - for some reason, we've construed receiving help or asking for help as an unacceptable admission of weakness or incapability. I disagree - I think it's perfectly acceptable to admit weakness of lack of capability. I'd venture to say it takes a level of boldness to do so.

I think a willingness to receive help takes more courage, humility, and strength than it does to offer help. But it is well worth it, and to our benefit and the benefit of others to do so.

Something beautiful happens when we acknowledge we're a part of the village, when we realize we benefit from it as much as we offer it (or even more) - we give others permission to do the same.

You don't have to look far to find some article or quote referring to America's relational deficit/brokenness/plague of loneliness. It's because we've forgotten how to receive, how to ask, how to accept (perhaps even benefit) guilt-free from the village around us.

I'm not talking about food handouts, I'm not talking about welfare, I'm not talking about manipulation or laziness or enabling poor life choices/behaviors/addictions/states of mind. I'm talking about doing life together with others outside of our immediate families - I'm talking about creating communities of people in close proximity to us who can help watch our children, bring soup when we're sick, rejoice when we have breakthroughs, and sit in companionship when we face loss - and who can expect the same from us in return.

It is possible. I've seen it. We've been invited into those communities already here. They do exist. And I think most of us find them at some point in life - but for now, I'm going to suggest we would find them much quicker, and they would be much stronger, if we would bravely receive and graciously give.

It takes a village to be a village.

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