How to Build a Village: You May Need it One of These Days

three person riding bikes on green grass field
Dikaseva on Unsplash

Does it really take a village? Probably.

Some of us need a sturdier village than others. But villages are good. Worth both the cultivation and the acknowledging. I admit to needing a LOT of villages; some cultivated, some spontaneous, most acknowledged, all appreciated.

For instance. On getting home from a recent cross-country trip rather late one evening I did a little unpacking, a little going through the mail, and eventually I played the accumulated messages on my land line phone.

“Hello, Mrs. Johns,” said a pleasant voice. “This is gate agent Sheiako with Alaska Airlines. We have your wallet, that was left on the plane . . .” This is news that’s particularly welcome before one notices the absence of the wallet and enters full panic mode. And it definitely proves the existence of the village: cleaning crew, miscellaneous supervisors and agent Sheiako all together. I’ve no idea when or if I’ll fly Alaska Airlines again, put I’ve paved any future path with letters of sincere gratitude to and about every member of that village I could think of. Villagers usually appreciate knowing they’ve been of help.

A similar village assembled only a short time later to retrieve my Discover card at the local grocery store. One would think some earlier lesson might have been learned, but anyway. What’s interesting here is the fact that when I went to collect (with extreme gratitude again) my credit card from the store manager, she opened a drawer literally crammed with credit cards, miscellaneous cards and at least a half-dozen driver’s licenses. Are all those owners unaware of their villages?

My friend Pam’s husband was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, not long before their 50th wedding anniversary. She offered to make their planned overseas celebration trip happen anyway, but he was apprehensive about being away from his physicians. So instead, Pam joined with her son and daughter-in-law (relatives are primary villagers) to send invitations around the country to a giant anniversary party. Her husband, as it turned out, did not live to make the party. But she found herself not only widowed in an unexpectedly short time but also surrounded by a village. In her case, it is strengthened by her unfailing habit of recognizing every birthday, anniversary &/or significant occasion in the lives of her friends and family with a hand-addressed, snail-mailed card. Some villages are cultivated over the years.

person's hand over brown floral field during daytime
Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

When my own good husband died I was fine with attending him through the very few days it took to complete that journey; but I balked at being nearby when the cremation people came. So from another room I heard the front door close on their departure – and realized, with a sense of utter desolation, that I was the only person in my suddenly silent apartment. Next, I realized I was in a retirement building into which we’d moved a few years earlier so I could see us through this. “So, why am I here?” I asked myself; by now it was 7 AM. Thereupon I went down to the dining room and surfed among the tables saying, “Bud just died; I need a lot of warmth and hugs.” Not what most folks want for a conversation-opener while they’re having their morning coffee, but everyone blinked a few times and then surrounded me with comfort. Some villages come about by design. Or a reluctant move.

But back to the lost-and-found department. My friend Carol is a retired schoolteacher and thereby knows stuff. Such as: put a card with the phone and address of your building into your wallet. (Some villages need advance planning.) Returning from a visit to a nearby town she stopped at a downtown bank to get some cash. And – you guessed it – dropped her wallet into the cushions of the chair in which she was reorganizing things. A few minutes later she was seated in a Lyft car, having quickly made friends with the driver. (All villages function better with friends.) She soon realized she was without money or identification, and her wallet was somewhere in an unfamiliar bank. But she had her cellphone. Not to worry, said the concierge at her building. “The bank has already called, and all you need to do is show up and utter the magic code: Star Star 7.” So the Lyft driver did a wheelie and returned to the bank, she uttered the magic words and was reunited with her wallet. Some villages seem downright weird.

Here’s the thing. It really does take a village to get us through this life.

The good news is that villages are everywhere.  

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