It’s 5 a.m. A god-awful time to be sitting at an airport gate. An especially early time if you’ve been there with your 4 children since 11 p.m. the night before. If, by chance, your boarding pass and the flight boards reflect different gate numbers, and you have already walked the significant length between the two, you are exponentially more exhausted.
It was this situation that I became privy to when a fellow would-be passenger informed myself and the aforementioned mother of 4, along with several other confused passengers, that our boarding pass was indeed correct, it was the flight boards that were wrong. We had done as instructed by all important air travel messages and trusted the board.
With heavy sighs, a group of us, who had also already made the long trek between the San Jose terminals, gathered our things and readied to get some extra exercise. Myself, with my purse slung over a shoulder, my coffee in one hand and roller bag handle in the other, a group two silvered ladies and a gentleman with minimal bags, and the mother of 4, eyeing her babes, ages 4-10, wrapped up like burritos, draped over chairs and laid out upon the ground, snoozing on the spot as only children can.
“Here, please let me help you,” I offered, draining the last of my caffeine in a massive gulp to free up a hand, while at the same time the gentleman asked which child he could carry for her.
This mother graciously accepted our help, watching as one son roughly roused another, and, with the extra hands being offered by the older group, we managed to collect the 9 bags and one too-sleepy-to-walk 4 year old that made up our motley crew’s possessions, and began our journey back down the terminal, to the gate we had all already walked to and turned away from, screens blank and seats empty.
I learned on our long walk that the older group was heading north for a train trip to a fishing destination in Canada. The mother was on a long multi-flight journey from taking her children to visit her native home and family in Hawaii, to their current home in Alaska. Myself, heading back to my own family after a whirlwind weekend long conference for bloggers.
What did we have in common aside from our temporarily similar travel path? Maybe not much, probably more than one would think at first glance, but definitely one incredible thing:
We were the village.
So many times we see, again and again, a lamentation of the loss of “the village.” “It takes a village,” everyone says, and in the next breath we curse the privatization, the exclusivity of our lives as parents, childcare givers, and neighbors. “Not my monkeys, not my circus” has been making the rounds as a prominent quote, meaning to say that we shouldn’t entangle ourselves in other people’s crazy, but being implemented on a broader scope.
Why is it then, that, in our society where oversharing is a normal occurrence, we do not share in the joy, and yes, the burden of being a village when so many are seeking one?
Our insistence on independence, ridding our lives of the need to rely on others, to be seen as strong rather than weak, to “have it all together” instead of admitting that sometimes we are all just a hot mess, is taking the village out of the communities we build. We are taking an essential part of humanity out of the human experience.
And for what?
Maybe it was empathy that caused me to help her. Having 4 kids myself, I understand the work it is to move them from Point A to Point B without losing one of them (or my mind). Maybe it was the leftover sense of community that I had been basking in for a full weekend with my blogging peers that made me reach out, eager for a continuance of the human connection. Whatever the reason, would my day have been better had I decided to enjoy my mocha, sip by drawn out sip, on a lonely stroll down the terminal? No. Quite the opposite. I would have missed out on a conversation that gave me a glimpse of the fun these people were coming from or heading towards. Snippets of their lives bringing back fond recollections of my own visits to family and my own fishing trip on the Pacific with my husband. It sparked a connection, formed a new tie-in to humanity, and, if only for that long walk down the bustling airport hall, we were a village. And when you are part of a village, it becomes easier for you to spread the village boundaries.
As our flight began boarding, comfortable from my place in this amiable, temporary village, I noticed a man being continually brushed off by the gate clerk. ‘Your row is not boarding yet, you will have to wait.’ ‘Your seat is in row 7, we are boarding rows 20 and up, please wait over there.’ Cozy in my supportive space, I watched in mild interest, a bit frustrated on his behalf due to the language barrier that was obviously hindering his ability to effectively communicate and understand. When he turned to speak to his traveling companion waiting behind all of us, I followed his gaze to his petite wife, wrapped in her hijab, holding their dimple-faced baby girl. She replied to him, unaware of my attention, and he shrugged.
I found myself drawn to them, thoughts turning to my own 10 month old daughter, her blooming curiosity echoed in the dark chocolate eyes of this baby from the other side of the world.
“Are you trying to board early?” I asked the woman, who looked to her husband.
He looked at me, clearly frustrated, “No English. Simple. Please.”
So, I made an ass of myself, pointing to the plane, pantomiming, and using the sign for one of the only sign language words I am confident of: baby.
“You… want to get on the plane… now… because of your baby?”
Relief washed over his face, “Yes.”
A quick explanation to the attendant and they were ushered to the front of the line. A furtive wave from him in thanks and they disappeared down the ramp.
Now, when I wrote this piece, I was on a 2 hour flight, seated half a plane length away from that little family. The words practically put themselves into the notebook in front of me until, finally spent, I placed what I thought was a completed piece into my bag, ready to be edited, typed, and submitted.
But the village wasn’t done with me yet.
I saw nothing of this tiny, middle eastern family when I departed the aircraft. I sent a silent prayer into the world that they would find a kind soul to help them, wherever their path led. I made friends with a candy-kid hippy and we talked tattoos while navigating the various escalators leading to the rail that would swiftly deposit us at the next gate. The train pulled up, I stepped through the doors and when I turned around, there they were. The husband fumbled for his pass, and thrust it towards me.
As fate would have it, we were heading to the same gate.
I beckoned them on, the man offered me a smile, and they stepped in next to me, their daughter, now in his arms, still bright-eyed with wonder. In a fit of spontaneity, I showed them a picture of my daughter that my husband had send to me, the blue of her eyes such a contrast to the 3 sets of eyes looking at her, but in an instant I felt a new connection being made. We needed no common tongue to have a common cause.
I resolved to help them. I had an hour until my flight boarded, and I was no longer willing to leave this family to the chance that maybe someone else would be there for them. It wasn’t hard to remember the man’s frustrations trying to board the previous flight. I tapped my wrist and said that I had time, I would settle them at their gate.
The man nodded, “Moscow.”
“Idaho?” I replied.
It is possible that I imagined the eager question in the woman’s voice when she uttered her first words to me, “Moscow, Idaho?”
I would have given quite a lot to have been able to tell her that it was my destination as well.
We were making our way towards more escalators when their daughter reached for me.
Instinctively, my hand reached up to hers, but I pulled back at the last moment, placing my hand over my heart, “May I?”
The man smiled for the second time and nodded.
His daughter’s fingers were so warm as they curled around mine. Her tan skin soft, as only a baby’s can be. Her grip was strong. She was so sure of herself in that action that she took my breath away.
This is what the village is. Sharing these moments, so seemingly small and insignificant, yet so pivotal.
How in the world could I ever have expected that a family who did not speak my language, share any of my physical traits, and worshiped in a completely different manner than me, would need me in their village?
It seems to me that, in our concept of the village, we have degraded it to a mere shadow of what it could be. We have turned it from a web, ever reaching, ever growing, ever reinforced, into a circle, stagnant and never changing, of people just like us. We hope to find those we have commonalities with, not because we are racist or prejudiced, per se, but because we are most comfortable with what we know, with what we are familiar with. It is in this practice that we are doing ourselves, our communities, and, most importantly, our species a disservice.
We need to take the village back. We have seen enough casting about, attempts at pinpointing the problem, speculating the hows, whos, whens, wheres, and whys. Instead of asking where my village went or how to find my village, I am making a call to action.
I am the village, and I am taking it with me, expanding its population wherever I go.
Will you join me?