So in one of the more inspirational websites I follow, there was a story about a widower with 2 small children who was in a doctor’s waiting room when one of the doctor’s employees overheard him talking about his wife’s death and how much of a struggle it had been for him and his kids, to the point where they sometimes had to sleep in his car because of their financial issues. The employee decided to reach out to everyone she knew, both personally and on social media, to try to bring some happiness to this family and received an astonishing amount of both money and donations ranging from toys to clothes to food to gift cards. When she was interviewed by this website she said that it only takes one person to do something like this and asked herself why shouldn’t she be that person. Everyone has a village, she said.
And that simple sentence resonated with me because – whether we are conscious of it or not – we all do have a village. It has become a cliché to say that it takes a village to raise a child but I believe that – for all of us – it takes a village to live your life.
I know we all have examples of who comprises our village. For most of us, it’s our family. Your parents, your siblings, your children. I am blessed to have the most supportive mother and to have had my father, my hero for 57 years. My parents have been my wings when my own were broken by heartache and heartbreak and loss and betrayal. I have sisters who have shared their grace with me when I had none of my own, who make me laugh and sometimes cry when we talk about our childhood and the experiences we shared and the silly things my Dad would do or say.
I have cousins on both sides of my family who are extraordinarily kind to me. My Burke cousins took us all in the holidays after my darling Dad died because they knew how awful it would be that year, to try to pretend in my parents’ house that everything was the same. They are strong and brave and powerful and are always there to lend an ear when having a sympathetic voice on the phone is what you really need. My Vernola cousins always include my great kid and me in their Thanksgiving feast and make me ever so thankful that I have been blessed to be related to them.
My best man has made me laugh like no other for over 40 years and made my Dad laugh too anytime they were together. He drove hours the night of my Dad’s funeral just to be able to spend a few minutes with us while we were grieving so deeply. He has gone out of his way to offer friendly advice and a big brother approach to my great kid. And when I struggled mightily recently, he and his extraordinary wife lifted me up with an act of kindness that still makes me weep with humility.
My high school friends are women who all have their own accomplishments, challenges, struggles and issues but there has never been a time in the past few years that they have not been there for me. Whether it’s having dinner one-on-one with one of them or going to a group lunch and sharing our stories, both from high school and present day, they are a community I am proud to be a charter member of. When we pray together, as we do every week, I can really feel the power of their prayers for whatever our needs are that week. When I’ve gone through hard times, they reach out to me privately to check in, to reassure, to ask what they can do to help. When I least expect it, they send me notes of encouragement or tell me how proud they are of me or compliment me on something I’ve written or said or done. And when the bottom was falling out of my world in the not-so-long-ago past, they rallied around me in a way that was so extraordinarily kind and generous and compassionate that it made me want to be the person that they think I am. They saved me and I hope they know that.
There are other people too, people I don’t always keep in touch with or see as often as I would like but who are an integral part of my village. People like Josh and Jamie and Angel who were and are there for me should I need them. There are former colleagues like Miss Deborah and Dawn and Patrick and Liza (and my late, great friend Georgia) who still keep in touch even though our professional paths have not crossed for years. There are people I’ve met at social events over the years who check in on me and make a point of keeping in touch which pleases me to no end.
And of course there is my great kid who thinks nothing of calling me at 3:00 am when he needs my advice or counsel or just someone to listen and tell him he is loved beyond measure. He makes me want to make him proud because of how he has conducted his own life. The generosity of spirit he has is astonishing. He is the man who flew across the country on a moment’s notice when my mom had a difficult medical procedure and stayed a week longer than he’d planned so he could take care of her after she’d come home. He is the friend who is loyal and generous, the person who works hard at his job because he takes such pride in doing an honest day’s work. He is that person who is stronger than anyone his age should have to be and he has taken the lessons he’s learned and used them to grow and excel. He is the boy whose birth, whose life, whose story has changed me and made me a better person in every possible way. He is the center of my village of people.
There are people for whom believing they are a valuable part of someone’s life can be hard. Perhaps it is that we tend to downplay our own value or the part that we play in someone else’s story. And too often while we may think our friends and family know how much we appreciate their gestures, their words, their gift of love or friendship, we forget to articulate it and tell them how much they matter. And you may never know how much you matter to someone, how important your presence is, how crucial you are to their story until they either tell you or you have that proverbial lightbulb moment. 2016 has been a year of lightbulb moments for me and I am so grateful that so many people in my village let me know that I was part of their village too. And their words, their thoughts, their prayers, their kindnesses are the greatest gifts of all. We are all a part of someone’s village and that is a privilege and honor not afforded to everyone. For that, I am most grateful.