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Six years ago, virtually everything that signified home to me ceased to be.
In the span of a few months I was no longer anyone’s wife, no longer anyone’s daughter, and my active phase of mothering had come to an end as my eldest married and my youngest left home.
To say my world seemed to stop would be an understatement. The process of rebuilding my life involved difficult decisions and many hours contemplating the concept of home and its essential partner, sense of place. Without my immediate family, I was adrift in a sea of uncertainty.
In the unexpected blink of an eye, it was just me and the dog and no family nearby.
Close friends kept me going for weeks, but eventually, they had to get back to their own lives, and I needed time to recover and figure out what to do next. I’d have to sell the house and move. But where?
Where did I belong? Where should I go?
I couldn’t help thinking about my Costa Rican grandmother, and the vast differences in her experiences and mine. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, but the truth is, we all need a village to support us throughout our whole life.
The concept of village is a landscape of security, caring, and belonging.
It has an energy all its own and having traditionally evolved over decades, it provides a sense of familiarity, stability, and continuity. Village is a lifetime of shared memories and experiences. It’s multi-generational wisdom and knowledge. Village is humanity’s safety net.
In just two generations, we have moved from small communities where everyone was related or knew each other, to distant cities where we are islands of small families who often feel more alone than ever before. We move from place to place, often scarcely getting to know our neighbors before one of us moves on. Some of my closest friends in TN are already making plans to move when they or their spouses retire–back to home countries, nearer to children, or away to sunnier retirement communities. My own daughters live far from me and each other and are still on the move. Following one’s children is iffy at best.
Our siblings, adult children, and extended families are scattered due to work, finances, and other practical reasons.
We may have small support systems of friends and families, but most of us have lost the extended web of village that once helped us cope with everyday life.
My grandmother, born in 1902, was one of ten children. As the children came of age and married, they built homes on adjacent family land around the town square near their mother. My grandmother raised her children alongside those of her siblings. She always had friends and family around her who shared the work, childrearing, joys, and the sorrows that life in those times involved.
My grandmother became a widow at age 70. And while she certainly mourned her husband’s death, her life didn’t drastically change.
She lived in the midst of a large family who comforted her and tended to her during the rollercoaster months of adjusting to another phase of life. Her brother-in-law continued bringing the newspaper and fresh bread to her each morning, while siblings, cousins, in-laws, nieces, and nephews dropped by as they always had. Gradually, a new normal came to be.
So much of what I know about cooking and holistic health came from her. Her knowledge was more useful to me during my pregnancies and early motherhood than any doctor’s. She was the village healer. She had sewing & knitting groups, church activities, and constant interactions. The doorbell rang a dozen times a day. Covered dishes of food came and went, errands were exchanged, advice was sought and given, and so forth. She was rarely sick, but migraines and vertigo would occasionally confine her to bed. We all made sure she was fed and looked after until it passed. It was understood that rhythms of life were of needing and giving, and every individual had something special to contribute to the mix. This was village.
Can you imagine feeling supported and nurtured throughout your entire life? Never experiencing overwhelming stress while feeling alone and isolated. Never worrying who will come if you’re sick. No wonder she lived a healthy 105 years!
I returned to Costa Rica in 2016 for a variety of reasons, but peace and stability headed the list. I longed for the comfort of the village I’d once known.
It’s taken time but I’ve found my place within a huge extended family I’d barely seen in decades. A favorite 90-year-old cousin and I recently discussed how the village we knew has died out and faded away. But we marvel at our special connection thanks to the village that lives on in us.
Living in a condo promotes village mentality if you’re willing to reach out because we’re just steps from each other.
Then there are the many new friends I’ve made and the revitalization of friendships from years ago. My peers here tend to stay put, so there is a greater sense of continuity and stability.
Immersed in an atmosphere of expanding connections and deepening relationships, I’m learning where I fit in existing groups as well as the new groups that seem to be coming together as we intentionally learn to village in the modern world. Traditional villages like my grandmother’s are vanishing, but multiple small villages can take their place.
What has or would village mean to you? How easy is it to create or maintain village where you live? No rush; this is food for thought, but please share your thoughts.