As New Years Day streamed over the horizon, Shayne and I climbed a hill in Kenya, holding small hands, and looking down over a brilliant green valley. We had come to “help children in need”. But as I stood there, flanked by expressions of love, and little heads that were only elbow high, I was shocked to find poverty in a place I least expected it….myself.
Tears flowed, from beauty and from loss as the realization came flooding in. Here in front of me was the thing for which I had ached in need all these years. I had doubted that it truly existed, and yet it was beside me, in front of me, holding my hand and saying my name: the Village (in the transcendent sense), with its beautiful web of connectedness and love.
The children of Fiwagoh Children’s Home are surrounded by staggering natural beauty, and they indulge in frequent “nature walks”. They live in deep daily communion with God, with their 220 siblings, and the “parents” who have chosen to call them their own- they know and are known. Reverently, they work the soil of their organic fields: each child tending his own small plot to share the harvest with the family kitchen, as well as his neighbors who are in such great need. The ground, the animals, the sky, the friends, the Word, the Family: all are treasured. These are full children, uncluttered, whole humanity
I turned to Shayne on that hilltop and whispered, “I know now what’s essential to life, it’s only a few things: love, beauty, freedom, purpose, God’s friendship, belonging, and a bit of security. That’s really about all…and they’ve got those things here in abundance”
Next to them, I stood as a pauper. It’s a funny thing to envy someone who’s been labeled an “orphan”, isn’t it.
There are all kinds of poverty. And just because yours isn’t material doesn’t mean that your soul isn’t shaking from hunger. That’s the great American myth, that our hearts are as full as our bodies.
I came home to Nashville and stood on my front porch. I looked up and down the street, and not a soul was in sight. What a contrast to Kenya where people are always present. I stood there and grieved the loss of the Village, the capital V village- the multiplicity of connections, the generations before to lead us, and the generations behind to be led, the daily encounter and the fabric of social identity. There’s a safety net to the Village.
I pleaded with The Lord to restore to me that thing that I had lost from the beginning. Our culture is rich in many ways, but the gifts of the Village are not among them. I begged for Him to send it like manna from the sky, or to show me where to till the soil.
My prayer was answered in a strange way.
Crisis has a way of uniting the Village. It burns away clutter like the mist of morning. I was diagnosed in July with Ankylosing Spondylitis at an already advanced stage. It’s an autoimmune disorder that causes chronic pain, and the eventual fusing of the spine and sacroiliac joints…mine have already begun the fusion process.
That turn of events brought the hidden Village to the fore. I decided to treat my disease (which is technically incurable) with alternative therapy. The work is enormous and the cost is even weightier. But as there is expense is this process, there has been equal wealth. What’s taken somewhere has been given in another way. The people around me, from age 8 to 68 have crystalized into a piece of the visible network that I lacked.
This morning, I chop carrots and I think of Roxanna who bought them. I eat a nectarine and I think of Jamie who made trips to 3 grocery stores for me today. I cook a potato and I think of Berta who scrubbed 6 pounds of them without a word of complaint.
The Village came to me, and it came on the wings of crisis. Isn’t that the way it is? Adversity reveals. It calls us back to the important in place of the urgent.
We’ve been invited to give thanks in everything, and to count it a blessing when we suffer. Indeed, for me, some of the blessedness of the trial shines already. Though I do not mean to say that I never feel loneliness, or the breadth of my community is complete, I’m thankful for the Village that has come like manna in the morning.
In what ways are you grieving the loss of the Village (I bet I’m not the only one), and how have you seen it restored? I’d love to hear from you.