At no point in my parenting journey has the absence of a village been more achingly apparent than the night that my children’s father died.Having been a single parent for many years I seemed to have made peace with the idea that I could survive without the illusive community about which we often speak.It seemed as if my back was made for burden bearing and the strength of my soul allowed for growth and spiritual maturity in the vacancy.Until that night.
On December 15th, as my weary body gave in to the sweet relief of sleep, the shrill ring of the telephone shattered the stillness of night. My children’s father, who despite the end of our marriage was the man who at one time was the one I loved the most, was gone. At 44 years of age his heart stopped beating and he slipped from life into death as the world slept, leaving me to deliver the news to five little lives tucked safely in their beds.
Even as our grief has shifted with the seasons, I cannot escape that night.In a matter of moments I was suddenly forced to stare directly into the stark reality of absence.I was not enough that night. My lap insufficient to cradle all five, and my arms woefully inadequate for the very individual needs of each of my children, I felt disadvantaged like never before.The burden that night, the absence of another human being with which to journey, became disproportionately, oppressively heavy.Worn and weary from the weight of grief, my children could no longer fight sleep and the house was once again still.Covered in my children’s vomit and soaked from their tears I grabbed a mop and broom and began to scrub the floor, because it was all, at that moment in time that I could control.
“It takes a village to raise a child” is an expression that only highlights the significance of a life in isolation.The desire to know one another deeply and the willingness to share the yolk of burden and the gift of joy is innate, and yet my children and countless others will not grow up in the nurture of community. I am a modern woman living in a fairly modern world.It is a world whose idealistic voice would indicate a desire for acceptance and cooperation, but whose subliminal messages and relationally challenged truth sing an altogether different song.
I am a woman standing in an unfamiliar place, in the middle of a road I don’t recognize on a journey I didn’t plan for.It is a reality I neither dreamed about nor even considered before my life changed several years ago and the ground beneath my feet began to shift. I am a woman with a raising five young children all born in a four year time span without the support and partnership of their father and with no village in sight.And in the absence of the village there is tremendous pressure to hold on to my identity and my sense of self.With innumerable needs to meet, I am left feeling inadequate opening the door for the intrusions of shame and guilt.Life in community would seem to generate a sense of acceptance and inclusivity, while my world in the absence of a village seems to foster a life on the periphery.There is judgement and disempowerment outside of community, and while I am fiercely independent, almost to a fault, the desire for a companioned journey is ever present.
And then there is loss because there is certainly nothing normal about grief.Everything is foreign in the landscape of loss.It is unfamiliar, uncertain and unpredictable.It strikes at the heart of our own existence and threatens our sense of rootedness.And as the world continues to spin on its axis, as the crowd seamlessly goes about living, because no matter your level of brokenness, the world doesn’t not cease its striving for your grief, you wear a new name, a new label, and a new title, one that further distinguishes you from the crowd.But of all of the things that seem to push me toward the periphery, grief has been paramount at not solely shifting the earth beneath my feet, but in exquisitely unveiling who I am, because the most profound work is often accomplished in the most barren and desolate places.
And so from the periphery, in the absence of a village, I can courageously and openly utilize eyes that often see too far. Life on the periphery is a testimony to the falling open freedom of vulnerability and transparency. It is about the allowance of pain, of change, of emotion and of uncertainty to the delight of becoming and for the benefit of others.From the periphery I am drawn to those who live in the shadow of “other” for they are far more captivating than then those in the spotlight of “ordinary”.My heart is open and my spirit empathic to those who join me on the periphery even as the world does its best to destroy that which it deems different.And to dwell on the periphery, to gain the perspective from the margins is to shoulder the great responsibility of inspiring others to thrive in the absence of a village.