We’ve all heard the saying at least a hundred times, “it takes a village.” Once the reality of parenthood sets in, you realize just how much truth is in those four words. With a constant atmosphere of judgement and scrutiny, I’ve noticed more and more that so many of us have chosen a position of bystander rather than comrade. We choose to watch. We choose to avoid or ignore. We choose to do anything but be the village our fellow man needs.
For the most part, many of us have a close knit group of friends and family that make up our village. In the comforts of our own homes we know that we have support. On group outings we know that we are not alone. But what about the times we find ourselves alone and in need of a helping hand? What about the times of dire need when we find ourselves without a friendly face and are instead met with pursed lips and averted eyes?
I remember very distinctly the moment the weight of being “village-less” hit me. My oldest was four or five months old and I was traveling alone with him. We had barely made it to our connecting flight when I realized he had just had a massive blowout and poop was leaking out the collar of his shirt. The flight attendant and I exchanged looks of panic and she said, very matter-of-fact, “you better go take care of that before you board.” She could have been the first member of my village, but she chose to push me away.
With diaper bag and car seat in tow, I ran as fast as I could through the airport, doing my best to keep a handle on my son without getting poo all over everything (more so than it already was). People stared, obviously. People made comments and faces and exclamations about the smell. Any one of those people could have been a member of my village, but they chose to avoid me.
When I finally made it to the bathroom, the line was all the way out the door, and after a series of very exasperated “excuse me’s” and using my poopy child as a sort of staff of Moses to part the sea of women blocking my way to the changing table, I finally made it. By this time, many of the people in close proximity to me began complaining about the smell and about how much space the car seat was taking up. I was rushing as fast as I could, in part because I was dangerously close to missing my flight, but mostly because I was so close to tears from frustration, and in the frenzy of it all ended up dumping over my diaper bag. I remember having to take a steadying breath to keep myself from crying. I remember looking up from the chaos and realizing that everyone had giving me about a three-foot berth and as I searched the faces of my peers in that bathroom I saw either pity or contempt. I could have been looking at the members of my village, but they chose to ignore me.
That experience was a pivotal moment in my life. As hurt as I was that there was not a single good samaritan in all of those spectators, I understood. I’ve done the exact same thing when I’ve been in their shoes. I’ve recognized someone’s need for help but refrained from stepping up because I was scared. Scared of overstepping my bounds. Scared of scaring them by inserting myself. Scared of being yelled at or made into a meme or a viral video. Scared, and maybe a little prideful too.
But the airport experience changed me. It made me understand that in most cases, if not all, help is desperately wanted, even if the person in need is too scared or ashamed to ask for it. At first, I would have to talk myself into setting aside my introvert nature in order to help. I would see a situation unfolding and I would get so nervous getting ready to step in. Now? I don’t even think about it. I made it a habit, part of who I am. I found perspective and stopped being afraid of whether or not my help was wanted and if I was doing the right thing by helping without being asked.
When you approach a person out of love and a genuine desire to help, you become a member of the village. When you don’t judge them for how or why they found themselves in dire straights, when you offer a steadying hand, you become a member of their village. This is what we need. All of us. We need villages made up of people we don’t know and may never see again, willing to be in that moment with us and get us through. Whether it’s a mom sitting alone with her kids in a room full of people or a dad scrambling after his child in a crowded store or a parent like me facing a poo-pocalypse in the middle of an airport, every single one of us needs a village. Because, you know what? It takes a village.