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  • Writer's pictureMarisa Guerin

It MAKES a Village

Updated: Jul 5, 2019

Marisa Guerin, Ph.D. – October 15, 20

“It takes a village to raise a child” is said to be an African proverb which means that it takes an entire community of different people interacting with children in order for a child to experience and grow in a safe environment. (Wikipedia, commenting on the title of H. Clinton’s book.)

Once upon a time that reality would have been fairly common even in the US, I think – in smaller towns, or in crowded urban Catholic parishes, in enclaves of immigrants and in networks of extended families embracing South to North and back again. Even today, I think there are many places where the child-raising years engage a family in a supportive circle of neighbors, school-mates, relatives, and others. Although I didn’t raise children myself, I certainly know that my identity as an aunt of many wonderful younger people is a treasured role for me.

What I realized last weekend is that in some circumstances, raising a child can also MAKE a village. Here’s what I mean by writing that phrase: by dint of time and life’s events, if you interact over many years with a network of people and their children, and if their children become a community of people, too, a village is created – an enduring matrix shaped by the bonds of friendship and support.

I was deeply moved to appreciate this beautiful reality in my own life last weekend. I was privileged to attend the wedding of one of my godchildren – in the company of a joyous, supportive, celebrating community that is entering its third generation of relationships. I looked around and saw neighbors, friends, and family members who have gathered for important celebrations year after year for almost 40 years.

Defined initially by the immediate West Philadelphia neighborhood and family ties of people my own age and their awesome posse of children, this community has generously expanded over the years. The now-grown children are in their young adult years -- some nearby, some on other continents. When we convene for a wedding or a Christmas party, they come with their spouses, and to everyone’s great delight, with their own babies. It’s more than a family. It’s a web of caring, affection and support; not overly confining, with plenty of space for the (perhaps rather overwhelmed) newbies who may be surprised to discover that they married into an entire “village” of people who have known their spouses since they were born.

I have a purpose in sharing this personal experience, and it is this: I am hopeful that through commitment and initiative, more of us can re-start the engines of community in our neighborhoods and friend networks. It is a desperate need! And it may be one of the most effective ways to attend to the healing that our nation needs as we move through these polarized times.

In today’s Washington Post, George F. Will writes about loneliness, referencing a book by Sen. Ben Sasse, “Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal.” I haven’t read the book, but here are a few quotes from the column that struck me:

“ ‘There is a growing consensus’ that loneliness — not obesity, cancer or heart disease — is the nation’s ‘number one health crisis.’ ‘Persistent loneliness’ reduces average longevity more than twice as much as does heavy drinking and more than three times as much as obesity, which often is a consequence of loneliness.
"Sasse says, ‘We’re literally dying of despair,’ of the failure ‘to fill the hole millions of Americans feel in their lives.’
“Americans are hyperconnected but disconnected, with ‘fewer non-virtual friends than at any point in decades.’
“The crumbling of America’s social infrastructure presents a daunting challenge: We do not know how to develop what Sasse wants, ‘new habits of mind and heart . . . new practices of neighborliness.’ “

I don’t think I agree with George Will that we don’t know how to develop new habits and practices of neighborliness. I think it is more likely that it is very hard-- for me, for us. And we’re out of practice. It’s hard -- almost considered impolite! -- to make a phone call instead of a text. Hard to make time to join someone for coffee or a glass of wine after work. Hard to remember to include neighbors at small or seemingly insignificant moments.

We’re never going back to a world without social media and the technologies of connection; it’s up to us to make sure the virtual-touches don’t completely smother any possibility for human-touches, in real time, with real bodies and real voices. So I'm going to encourage myself to have that block party. Go to the baby shower. Call my nephew. Offer to babysit. Stop to chat with a neighbor walking the dog. Send a card. Invite the elders over. Learn the name of the person I see every Sunday. Ask for a helping hand when I need it. Listen to a kid. (........Your ideas?)

The rich fruits of deeply rooted relationships will not be possible without patient and persistent watering. I believe the seeds of care, attention, and love, if scattered, will sprout in unexpected ways and possibly well into the future. Maybe we can make more villages.

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