Saturday, January 16, 2010

our village

It's a cliche by now that it takes a village to raise a child. Whether or not you agree, or think that is a true statement for every child, I can tell you it will take a village to raise our child. Or, at least, she will be raised not only by us but also by our village.

I'm thinking a lot about our village this week, and how blessed we are.

Maybe it's because baby J was baptized this past Sunday, and I was overwhelmed by the love, excitement, and joy with which our parish welcomed her.

Maybe it's because Andrew has had unexpected orientations and trainings come up this quarter and there has always been someone willing (eager even!) to help with childcare so I don't have to flake out on work. Thursday it was my sister-in-law, who gamely spent a morning caring for her own two kids (1 and 3 years of age) and baby J. In a little over a week our upstairs neighbor will take a turn, a different upstairs neighbor than the one who watched J for a couple hours just before Christmas so I could go and watch Andrew play the last show ever with his band.

Maybe it's because over Christmas my love for family and for my best friend who lives there grew exponentially as I saw how much they all love my child.

Or because we are headed up to Gossamer Collective for a baby party thrown for us by two of the most creative and beautiful women we know today, and many of our friends are bringing the best of presents: lullabys to sing to J. (we'll record them for her as well.)

Or maybe it's because of the other friends, far away, who consistently show their care and investment: my heart-friend in the Midwest who has sent two giant piles of books for J, many of which contain brown faces in their pages.

But mostly, this week, I am thinking about a member of my village who was the first person I can remember talking out loud about this kind of community with - the kind where you choose to be family with people. It was summer, and we were sitting on the porch of the little blue house where I lived with the ladies who were family to me the latter half of college and beyond. Seeing as it was college, we were probably smoking clove cigarettes, and feeling quite rebellious for an English major and a theology major at a private Christian school.

I don't remember the exact words of our conversation, it was years ago now, but I think K was talking about how ridiculous it was that we were supposed to go out into the world and find one person and then cut ourselves off from everyone else and raise kids - other human beings!- with just that one other person whom, at that point, neither he or I had met yet.

I agreed with him - this made so much sense. I loved my friends so much, why did the fact that we weren't romantically involved preclude their deep involvement in my life and the life of my (imaginary) children??

"You know what?" I told him. "Someday, I want to raise my kids with you. I mean, whoever their dad is, I want him to raise them too. But I want you to be a part of it. And D, and the girls here. I want for us to all have the chance to love each other's families and be a part of their growing up."

I think K agreed with me, and I'd like to think I squeezed his hand and rested my head on his shoulder. If that's not what happened that night, it happened so many times, he was such a comfort to me on many occassions, that its okay if that's how the story ends now in my memory.

A few years ago K took a position working for a relief and development group in Haiti. Last year he took another position there, this time heading the whole thing up. The group's focus was education and environmental issues. I miss him, and Tuesday he was all I could think about until his mother got the word that he'd made it through the quake okay.

I've gone back and forth about whether or not to write about K here (he's not a big fan of people talking about him on blogs) or mentioning the situation in Haiti at all because, really, it reveals how selfish I am. I care about Haiti. But why? I know there are two reasons primarily that I cannot look at pictures or read news reports without emotion threatening to overwhelm me. The first is K, who I don't expect will be able to contact me for quite a while but who is a beloved of mine that is not just looking at pictures but actually living that hell right now. And, if I know him, pushing himself and his trauma aside to do everything he can to save and preserve human life there. I am afraid for him especially because I love him so much. And, I will be honest here, I see my daughter's face in the children there. J is not Haitian, I know this. But a heritage of slavery and oppression at the hands of white folk is something that she has in common with the people there, though her situation is quite different.

I have no idea what an ethical and reasonable response is for someone like me - a new mother without many extra resources financially, without skills that would be helpful there.

But I am going to give money.

K works for this organization. They have low overhead, they have a very good repuatation gobally and in Haiti. You can listen to him talk about the emotional trauma Haiti has experienced here.

My friends Corrigan and Shelley, also college friends who shared a village of sorts with me once, are also in Haiti. They have no overhead, as they're there on their own, working with orphans and widows. Their website, which they haven't updated since the earthquake, is here. They also survived okay, with their children and the haitian orphans they take care of.

There are a lot of reasons why the quake in Haiti was this devastating. They are, mostly, big reasons that individual people like me or you have trouble wrapping our minds around or doing anything on our own to change. I am not an expert on all of these reasons: scientific, political, historical or cultural. But I am involved in some of those reasons. The USA has benefited from practices that have hurt Haiti, and that means I have benefited. I feel some culpability, and I think its appropriate that it makes me uncomfortable. I feel ashamed that if it weren't for K, I might not really care.

If you are a praying person, I invite you to join me in praying. I'm not praying "for Haiti." I am praying for me. That I don't miss any opportunity to help in the ways that are appropriate for me. That I can find the right outlet for the guilt I feel, the best way to make it productive and part of a solution to issues like this in the world. That next time it won't take an earthquake to wake us up, and get us to pay attention.


  1. good point,
    of course, me first,
    with me, one can not help otehrs..

    beautiful post.

  2. I hope you don't mind me commenting on your blog! I came to your blog through a friend's. Your daughter is beautiful! Congrats!

  3. About midnight last night, I was working on a post about the remarkable extended family that we have, and the incredible sacrificial support we received from so many. I didn't manage to finish it; I'm not sure how to get it short enough, and I really needed to go to sleep. I suppose that's on my mind for similar reasons.

    About 10 years ago, we became friends with a mom and her small children who taught us a great deal about a more open idea of family. We began sharing a big rental house just last September. We are both living a much saner life by living together and helping each other meet the needs of our families.

    Her kids are now 15 and 13. J, the boy, turns 13 today. He came upstairs and spent some time watching Diego with us this morning. Roo was snuggling with him and announced that "his brother Jason was SOOO big." What an amazing little moment. (We've never referred to J as a brother, so that's something Roo came up with on his own.)

    One of critical needs of our family is to provide the best community we can for our African-American sons, so that they will develop a strong and healthy personal identity. As white parents we must rely on others in our community to fully meet this need.

    J is half East Indian and half African-American. At only 13, he gets what is at stake here for our boys, and spends intentional time with them. (Even if he does play it off as no big deal in true 13-year-old style.) Just one of the reasons we are truly blessed.

  4. I'm so so happy to be a part of your village, and that you are a part of mine. i love that our kids know each other. Someday we can tell them stories (some of them!) from the wonderful, crazy blue house.

    And I was pretty freaked out until I heard K was ok too. Thanks for all the links in this post.

  5. Hi Alissa,
    Yes, I do read your blog! It's on my reader and I savor the times when I get a chance to follow up. Anyway, I had much catching up to do and this post makes me feel so happy. I can't wait to meet your daughter. She seems so calm and observant in the videos. Also, you reminded me of K and I watched the clip and even found his blog (which brought me to tears--damn, I forgot he could write!), so that was nice--it's so inspiring that everyone is doing so much cool stuff. Anyway, thank you for writing (as usual!), we miss you on lj, and hopefully I will get to see you this summer for the annual weekday-lunch-at-cafe-verde when I'm back for the normal round of weddings. You are in my thoughts.
    xo, eagle eye