When I became a mother, six years ago, there was one thing that really surprised me. More than anything else. I was surprised by how lonely I felt.
There were so many other feelings, of course. Joy, wonder, exhaustion, gratitude. These feelings, I had expected. I hadn’t been able to imagine the depth of them, of course. But I had expected them.
The loneliness was a surprise.
I remember it like yesterday – those first months home with my baby. We lived in Brooklyn, then, where I had left my job teaching music at the Brooklyn Waldorf school to be home with my baby.
I remember so clearly, walking through the park with him in the carrier, during those chilly mid autumn days, feeling like I might be only mother in the world who was home with my child
I wasn’t, of course… There were, in fact, so many of us.
But this was before I started using social media. I had posted a couple of times on a list serve, looking for mama friends. And there were, in fact, some incredible friends I would find and reconnect with later. But in those early days, I had yet to put the pieces in place that would help me find my tribe.
I remember this cry that seemed to well up from the depths of my soul. A question and a feeling that, throughout my thirty some years of life, I had never felt before. Or at least not to this extent.
“Where is my village?!”
I felt it so strongly.
And I also felt a little guilty about it.
After all, I had wanted the experience of motherhood so badly. Through years of struggling with infertility, I had ached for it.
I remember looking down at my little son in his plastic box in the NICU, feeling so intensely the tenuousness of life, swearing to myself that I would never take a single day of motherhood for granted.
So how could I now feel the way I did?
Well, over time, I began to sort it out.
Why I was so lonely.
I was lonely because I am a modern parent, and this is how it is for nearly every single one of us, living within the paradigm of the nuclear family.
Why? Simply put, we were never meant to parent in this way.
Wanting to understand, I started reading about physical anthropology, and learning more about parenting approaches from around the world.
Here is what I learned: the degree of isolation we experience in modern parenting is not normal for us as a species. By that, when you look at the story of our species as a continuum, stretching back to the earliest days of our evolution, the degree of isolation that we now experience is a relatively new phenomenon. Even as recently as a few thousand years ago, our ancestors lived with a greater degree of interdependence in the doings of their daily lives. And while human “progress” may move at the speed of light when it comes to technology, evolutionarily, our basic adaptations evolved in response to the environmental challenges of hunter gatherer times.
The yearning for our village is an ancestral calling. We crave our village because no matter how modern we may be in many ways, motherhood realigns us with the fundamentals. With what our ancestors knew, lived and needed.
Connection. Mutual, loving dependence. Giving and receiving.
We have come so far from where our ancient ancestors started.
And yet, a part of us is still there.
I think about it so much. I think about HER.
I see her in dreams.
I feel her in my intuition, my instincts. I feel her in my primal urge to protect my little ones from danger. To rock, to soothe, to love.
To put my feet and my children’s feet in the eddies of waterfall.
I remember her in nature. When I feel rain on my face, or sit watching the cherry blossoms fall.
So… The village. Connection. Reweaving what, in our culture has been broken.
How do we do this?
There are so many answers to this question, and I return to it again and again.
But I want to focus on just one piece of it today – something I’ve never really talked about before.
We strengthen our village when we take the time to notice each other.
There’s a practice that I started in those early days of mothering. I started to make eye contact with strangers. As time passed, and I my desire to connect began to push me past the boundaries of my self-consciousness, I started to greet them. Talk to them. Ask them questions. And sometimes, I learned their stories, and shared mine.
So much has changed since then.
These days, thanks mostly to my work as a teacher and musical facilitator, I am not often lonely.
These days, I have found my tribe, and I thank Spirit every day for them.
But the noticing… This is a practice I continue.
I continue it because in noticing a person I don’t know yet, I feel another truth – that the village extends beyond the people I already know and love. It extends also to everyone I interact with in my day.
The man at the post office. The homeless man who sleeps on the street outside our house. 🙁 And while these connections are not always simple or without conflict, they are real. These are the people we move amongst. Living, loving learning.
What will we make of these connections?
Some glimpses from these six years of noticing.
I remember a mother on the playground sharing from her heart about her struggles getting her child to eat. The anguish she felt that her child was not gaining weight, and struggling to implement the doctor’s advice. I remember talking and listening together, and the feeling of my heart opening to hear her struggle.
In this village, let no one be a stranger.
I remember the man from Ghana who heard me singing Sansa Kroma in Brooklyn and said, “that song is from my country. This is the first time I have heard it since I left,” and we shared a moment, connecting about the power of music.
Let this village reach beyond the borders of nations.
I think of the sample people at Costco, the ones who hand you a sample as you cart your weary littles through aisle after packed aisle. We’ve been going there long enough to befriend many of them. There’s one we’ve become especially close to – a grandmotherly woman with a radiant smile.
So, one day, while Ember and Peregrine sat in the cart, this wonderful woman and I got to talking about the state of the world. (She does not shy away from the deep things in life, even while handing you salmon salad on a cracker.) She was talking about hope, and about light. About how the world needs our light right now, more than ever.
She told me she loved me. I said the same, and we stood there for a moment, hugging in the tuna fish aisle. And we said a prayer together, for our world.
Sometimes we find connection in surprising places.
Let this village transcend all boundaries of race, class and role.
And, you know where this is going…. Because this is where everything goes with me. This feeling of kinship I am talking about… It’s one thing to think about it.
It’s another, more beautiful thing entirely when we take the step past noticing each other to share in actual practices and spaces where we can be together. And where, together, we can be authentic, embodied, and alive.
This is why I love community singing so much.
This past year, at a gathering of song leaders, I met a woman named Liz Rog. Liz Rog has two grown daughters, and when they were little, she started singing with them, and then singing with others in her community. She is not trained in music. She is a person with a warm heart, a love of singing, a deep humility, and a genius for building community.
So, she started leading singing circles. It started with a song here and there, at a protest, or at en event. Over the years, it grew.
Today, twenty some years later, she and her community have shifted the culture of their small Iowa town so that singing has come back into daily life again.
As she explained it, whenever someone plans a gathering for virtually any purpose, there’s always a question to go along with it – “And Liz, what songs should we sing? Do you have a song for that?”
But guess what. It goes beyond that. It’s more than the fact that singing is now a part of daily life. It’s that singing has changed the way people interact in her town. Singing has helped to midwife an actual cultural shift.
Now, people make eye contact on the street and say good morning.
People bring each other meals in a time of need.
Community rituals have evolved to honor the major life passages. Birth. Death. A girl’s initiation into menarch.
I hear a story like this, and it reminds me of what is possible, when we come together with intention.
A movement towards reweaving what, in our culture has been torn.
It is the Great Turning, and it is underway. And we are all a part of it. All of us, who choose to build it together. E.M. Forster said it so well – a simple motto for life, and perhaps it is mine, though I’ve never thought of it until now!
So thank you so much for reading. And if you have a chance, please share with me. I’d love to hear from you.
Where and how do you find community? And how is it feeling to you?