We Need Our Villages
In Accepting the Unexpected, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life. While the topics may vary, the central theme is always the same: living life means learning to deal with the unexpected.
I thought I might lose my mind. We were back from our vacation-that-didn’t-feel-like-vacation and I was surrounded by boxes and chaos and had too many decisions to make while trying to hold it all together for two kids whose emotions were all over the place all at once.
Our neighbor knocked on our door just as I was reaching breakdown mode. We had become almost instant friends when we moved into our Houston home nearly six years before. Our sons are two weeks apart, my daughter had served as a big sister to their two younger daughters, and we had celebrated Easters, Super Bowls, birthdays, and everything in-between together. During the early days of pandemic living, they were the only people we saw for weeks on end. At one point we had joked that we should just put a gate in our fence between our two yards.
We had reached the point where our kids just walked in uninvited. We adults walked in uninvited. We told them to use the pool when we were on vacation. They were everything we ever wanted in neighbors.
And just like that, we had announced that we were leaving them to move back to Indiana.
And yet, here she was, at my front door, asking what I needed. Over the week and a half that we had to pack up everything we owned so we could uproot our lives to put down new roots somewhere else, they stepped up like no one else. They let our kids hang out at their house for hours on end, they helped us move boxes and heavy stuff into the Pods, and they bought our final dinner in our home: pizza from our favorite local pizza joint.
They showed over and over again that while our village had seemed to shrink, they were still a part of our village and always will be.
Many years ago, Hillary Clinton received significant criticism from conservatives for her book It Takes a Village. In it, she essentially argued that, while the family is integral to a child’s upbringing and development, we can’t ignore that it takes the interdependent relationships of many people to successfully raise children to independent adulthood. Over the years, I’ve become more and more convinced that this is the healthiest way for us to view community and our role in our communities.
And by the nature of living a life where we haven’t stayed settled, our “village” has been in constant flux during the course of our marriage.
When we moved to Indianapolis in our fourth year of marriage, we found the village that we desperately needed. We found work communities that formed friendships that have lasted over fifteen years, despite now three moves. We found friendships that were formed over the bonds of our twenties and the changes that our thirties would bring: career moves, new homes, children. We convinced my sister and new brother-in-law to move to Indianapolis as newlyweds, and they never left.
But we did. For five years we struggled to find community in Fort Wayne, always feeling like we were sitting just on the outside looking in. So we bonded as a young family. We started camping again and made frequent enough trips to visit our parents in Michigan.
When we moved to Texas we found our own hodgepodge village of people made up of friends that went back to college days, neighbors, and new friendships formed out of church and work. We gathered together for Easter celebrations and Super Bowls. We had impromptu swim parties in our backyard and birthday gatherings to get rid of extra cake. Those friends knew they could walk into our house, their kids never struggled to find what they needed in the kitchen, and when darkness settled over our lives, they were the ones who remained.
In Stephanie Tait’s book, The View From Rock Bottom, she discusses the role of community in the Jewish mourning traditions. Those who experience loss are expected to stop everything so that they can be cared for by the community. Shiva traditions ask mourners to both set time aside for grieving and recognize that they are part of a larger community of grievers all over the world. The traditions instruct those who are not grieving to ensure that the needs of those closest to the death are cared for. The mourners aren’t the ones making sure that well-wishers are fed and entertained; that role is reserved for the community.
Later in the book, she reminds readers that in Genesis God proclaimed that “It is not good that man should be alone” (2:18). We were designed for community. We were not made to be independent, but to experience the deep bonds of interdependence in a truly unified body of Christ…We must embrace the equal importance of learning how to receive and how to share our needs, our weaknesses, and our burdens as well.”
Our villages may change, but our need for a village never goes away. After all of the fears of illness and frustrations over how different people have handled a global pandemic, many of us will probably spend the next couple of years with the residual trauma of isolation and loneliness caused by that fear and frustration. And regardless of where someone sat on the wide spectrum of pandemic living, we all faced levels of isolation that we had never experienced before. Covid has taught us both the importance of our villages and the fragility of the bonds that tie us together, our need for interdependence, and our loss of trust and confidence in loved ones who saw the threat of disease differently than we did.
I still believe that setting out on our own had a tremendously positive effect on our family. It forced us to think outside of the box, to see the world differently, and to look for ways for our family to connect with each other with just the four of us. While family life is a little rough right now, with two grieving pre-teens who are angry about their lives being turned upside down, I believe that the times that we spent together with just our family created the strong bonds that we needed to get through both the trauma of loss and the challenges of change over the past year.
But it was time for our village to return to Mom and Dad’s familiar.
In a recent article by another recent Indianapolis transplant, the author argues that we don’t spend nearly enough time highlighting the importance of relationships to our well-being. She writes:
“The American dream—the good life, according to American culture—is about not relationships but accumulation: income, a home, possessions. This includes raising a family, which is certainly about relationships, but the dream is more about providing for your family than enjoying your family, isn’t it? We don’t really honor or celebrate being with people or enjoying one another’s company for its own sake, not the way we honor working overtime, renovating a house, pursuing a sport, or bettering ourselves in some way…But what if relationships are at the very heart of the good life? What if our happiness depends primarily on the quality of our relationships?
We left behind good friends. We left behind quality relationships. But we needed to heal where the reminders of the damaged relationships weren’t staring us in the face nearly every day.
When you live in a village, you have to deal with everyone on both their good and their bad days. You don’t get to pick and choose all of your interactions. You don’t get to ask what kind of mood someone is in before you go over to their house. Yes, you can choose to shut the door, but eventually, you are going to have to open that door and see your neighbor, for better or worse.
Yes, I am dealing with the concept of village as a metaphor and no, you won’t necessarily have to see your friends or family every time they are having a bad day, but our metaphorical villages are about interdependence. Our fellow villagers celebrate our highs and sit with us in our lows. As Havercamp put it, those “relationships are at the heart of the good life.” They make the good great and the horrific survivable.
And so we’re working on rebuilding our village, a village with a few satelite campuses scattered throughout the country, but more importantly, a local village that will continue to walk with us through all that life continues to hand us.
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