BE THE VILLAGE

Nov 24, 2021

The year I turned 26, I was a tired mom to a busy toddler and a curious baby who wouldn’t sleep. My mornings began at 5 AM during that long Pennsylvania winter when sunshine seemed to hide its face and the bitter cold drove us into our homes. Breakfast often felt like a midnight meal, and joy was hard to come by as I sluggishly stirred the scrambled eggs; a baby on my hip and a puppy whining to play.

During this season of our lives, my husband and I had made the decision to pursue a work transfer through his company to a newly established engineering branch in Charleston, SC. The excitement was contagious, and the promise of palm trees, beaches and sunshine sounded dreamy at the sight of sleet and rain. But the worries of transitions and change would come to me in waves. After all, we would be selling our house, uprooting our lives, and moving to a faraway city where we didn’t know a single soul. It was a brave and risky step to take, and we knew it.

One weekday afternoon, while doing the same seemingly insignificant things I did every other day of the week, I caught a moment’s break to scroll mindlessly through Facebook. I “liked” a few pictures and messaged a friend when a post suddenly caught my eye. The title of the blog being shared was simple: “I Miss the Village”.

I clicked on the link and halfway through the first paragraph, I was wiping tears off my face. I finished, and read it again, this time through clearer eyes, desperate to capture once again the images forming in my mind. The author painted a nostalgic picture of missing the village she’d never had. She wrote of happy children running wild, loved and raised by a community who knew them well. Terms for family and friends were interchangeable and woven together by repeated moments of mutual connection. Lives became intertwined as joys and sorrows were shared together around washtubs and cooking fires. There was the kneading of bread, the mending of hearts and the generational ties not yet severed by independence and self-sufficiency. I gasped. What a beautiful collection of lives well lived.

So when I finally peeled my eyes away from the words, I copied the link and sent it to some of my closest friends, most of whom now lived hours away. And perhaps it was the puppy ruining yet another toy, or the dread of another sleepless night. Perhaps it was the nostalgia of leaving the friendships that had taken me years to build, or my own immediate family living continents away.

Perhaps it was all of it and more.

But after I closed the link and left the images to rest, I walked into my empty kitchen and wept.

I wept, because the village bustling so vividly in this stranger’s mind was not an imaginary one to me.

I was once the child running free, waking to the sound of roosters and flocks of parrots gliding over trees.

I was the child who ran across dirt filled streets, disappearing into the fields and homes of the women who raised me.

I sat by washtubs and listened to folk tales that had never been written down. I peeled yuca and ground rice in kitchens that smelled of dirt, thatch and smoke. In a land where my ancestors never lived, I had 5 grandmothers and 18 aunts who loved me as their own. My snacks were gathered at the tops of mango, guava and tamarind trees and when meal times came, I was fed in the kitchen closest to me. Singing frogs and setting suns were what finally drove my dirty self home with tales of the day and plans for tomorrow.

I lived in a village. I was the village. And the village was a part of me.

And now, years later here I sat, enclosed within the spaces defined by my walls, longing to go back to the village. I felt grateful and happy; my needs were met, my goals fulfilled. But deep down I knew I had lost a rare and precious gift that now only lived in the minds of those who recognized its worth and longed for it. Because whether you’ve seen it or not, we all long for the village.

In an age where worth is measured by individuality, we long for the unity of likeness.

In a place where self-sufficiency is the standard for success, we long for a dependence in something greater than ourselves.

In a day where isolation is valued as respect, our bodies ache, desperate for the holding of hands and the lacing of arms. For the rubbing of backs and the warmth of a kiss on our cheek. For the interrupting of tidy schedules and sharing of meals at imperfect tables.

We long for the village, yet keep stomping on dwindling village fires as we draw deeper and deeper into ourselves. Our attempts at filling the void only leave us longing. We choose schedules over interruptions, and dependence on anything makes us feel weak. We trade organic community with tidy programs and institutions that lack empathy and connection. We miss the village, but we don’t want the messiness of what a village life brings.

And here’s what we have to show for it:

  • Nineteen percent of our youth experience major depression.
  • Two hundred and sixty-four million people worldwide have an anxiety disorder, and women are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed in their lifetime.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death.
  • Almost half of marriages end in divorce, ranking us as number 6th in the world.

If those numbers don’t scare you, they should. And although societal problems are often multi factorial, the bottom line is that much of our brokenness and inability to function well as individuals circles back to our lack of connection and community with the whole.

So in a time and place of smoldering village fires, how, you may ask, do we build it all back? Geography and cultural norms are battling against us and finding the village seems harder than it’s ever been before.

How did a child raised in a village, find her way back home?

At that moment, standing at my kitchen sink, I realized the village I longed for was never coming back to me. I wouldn’t be boarding a plane, flying to the heart of my Bolivian jungle and picking up where I’d left off all those years ago. If I wanted a village, I would have to seek it wherever I was.

That very day I began to pray for a village, and I decided I would no longer wait for that village to come to me.

Six months later, we had moved to Charleston and I was sharing a late night tub of ice cream with sweet southern friends. We savored these nights as sacred times, and I became the village.

And when my brother died, it was those women who brought me meals, wiped my tears and listened to my aching sobs.

We spent years sharing breakfast over Bible studies, rocking each other’s babies, wiping sticky toddler hands and corralling our kids at the park. We became the village.

And when the time came to buy land and build our house, I convinced my sister-in-law to build a house next door to me. Our children catch toads and lizards together and scavenge for treasures in the woods. They play and fight, share their lunches and forget whose house they belong to.

When I battled cancer and fought for sanity as my life unraveled into seasons of desperation and survival, I was loved and cared for by the women who held my hand and stoked the village fire for me.

The village flows through seasons of change that can threaten it’s very own existence. Sometimes it’s bustling and filled with life. Other days, threats of loneliness tend to linger; worries and doubts consuming my time. But when I feel it slipping away, I can search for the village fire – add a log, stoke the flames. And as friends move and change, the village fire makes room for more. I ask and I plan. If I get an answer of “no, not today” it doesn’t scare me, because I know you miss the village too.

We all do.

So don’t wait for your village to come to you.

YOU, my friend, are the village. And the village needs you too.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/

Anxiety and Depression Association of America https://adaa.org/find-help-for/women/anxiety

Mental Health America https://mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america

I Miss the Village https://www.huffpost.com/entry/i-miss-the-village_b_5585677

Hi! I’m Amy…

I am a stay-at-home mom with a passion for books, baking, gardening and homeschooling. My calling to write stems from the desire to share the depths and vastness of grief and suffering, and how to point it back towards an eternal perspective through Jesus. Called to live full and grace filled lives, I hope to acknowledge pain, inspire joy through brokenness and find purpose in the beauty, the ugly and the mundane of parenting day to day. 

My husband, Ryan, and I live in Charleston, SC with our 4 busy boys, 2 dogs and constant influx of tadpoles, frogs, crayfish and lizards.