what makes a village work?

During the holiday, our littlest one was showing signs of unease, not really able to calm down, over-nursing and then returning it too soon. And we checked the back of the neck for fever, asked about the diapers (I for sure thought it was too much matzah on the part of our daughter, but she claimed that she wasn’t eating that much to make her have a problem), was she pulling on her ears, and you know, the usual things you do to try to figure out why a baby isn’t happy. But it wasn’t getting better and we were all getting worried, so we dispatched ISHI to the neighbor’s. In the past, we’ve had to trek out to neighbors who live at least a half-hour away, when the kiddies were here and someone got sick over Shabbat or a Jewish holiday. But these neighbors have moved in recently and the wife is a pediatrician! Three houses away!!! Sure enough, the wife would be home soon and would be happy [the husband was sure] to come over to check the baby out.

And she did, stepping over the thousands of Legos and game pieces and food boxes and people and chairs. And she ever so calmly checked her out, ruling out basically everything. They retired to a quiet room and she (well, actually both she’s) eventually fell asleep and calmed down.

The neighbor doctor came back, a little while later, bringing a thermometer. We mentioned that we didn’t have one, so…

I never used a thermometer when my kids were little. I could tell hot from normal with my hand. Today, everything is digital. I understand.

Today, I went over to their house, bringing a plant and returning the thermometer. The husband had just pulled into the driveway (I actually tried to bring it over the other day, but no one was home), so it was good timing. He was happy to get the plant–he’s into gardening–and it’s around her birthday time, so definitely welcome. But please, keep the thermometer–they’re always getting free samples.

He was happy to volunteer his wife to come over, because that’s what community is. We help each other. And he was happy we thought of them and of course, she was happy to be useful, although she’d prefer that it not be for emergencies.

Do you hear the wistfulness in my words?

Before I walked over there, I had spent a little while raking the front yard of the leaves that had escaped in the fall. There was a young woman who walked by with her baby in the stroller and she marveled at the leaf scoops I was using. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her before. We did not exchange names, just suggestions for where to buy the scoops.

Before that, I said hi to my neighbor, who had just come back from a bike ride. We exchanged pleasantries about how nice it is to have our homes back to ourselves, now that our kids have gone back to their homes after the holiday, and we both knew we were lying.

Before that, I had been raking and thinking how much I will not miss this, when we move to Israel. I also thought about the Skype conversation we had with our daughter and her little one in Israel, the same little one who we had been worried about just a week earlier, who seemed to be finding the right mixture of good elements for their upcoming move there this summer. Housing, schools, jobs–hopefully, and with G-d and the villages’ help, they will be successful.

Because yesterday, I had seen (via Facebook) an article in the Los Angeles Times about the Kvetch Circle.

The rules of kvetching

(Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times)

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And don’t say, “This is really bringing me down.”

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.

I know I’m combining themes here, but not really.

How do we effectively take care of people? How do we create a caring society? How do we let people have a clue? How I am grateful for a community where we do try to work this out.

But on the other hand, when people refuse to let themselves be truly cared for, that village is in trouble. When the inner circle is so tightly wound, you just might not be able to have real support.

Now what do we do about that?

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7 responses

  1. Thoughts which occupy my mind a lot. A lot. Building communities. Our network of support. Family. Friends. The lines and boundaries and circles. In a closed society like what we have here in Finland, privacy has been taken to the level of isolation. Personal space has become so closely guarded, that what should normally include family, friends and a couple of strangers now fit one loney soul with all the self-sufficiency in the world. But I digress 😀

    I must have missed your news about moving to Israel, because this is the first time I’m hearing about it! Oh, how very wonderful it must be to return to the Holy Land! Tell me more! Oh hugs. I visited Israel with my husband in the early years of our married life and it is a special place to both of us and one filled with precious memories of the people and the sacredness of that land. I wish you joy. Much love, Sharon

    • Thank you, once again, Sharon, for continuing the conversation. But in terms of our move, it’s not imminent! We are trying to figure out how to do it, make it work financially, since it’s not so easy to make that move, or any, for that matter. But it is my homeland and I do want to be there, certainly more and more with the upcoming move of one of my children this summer. Hopefully, I will be going then and really starting to take a good hard look at reality.

      • What interesting times ahead! Do keep us posted! I find myself in a similar sort of situation like yours – though it is my parents whom I want to be close to and spend their golden age together instead of just visiting once a year. For me, in a perfect world, my parents would just live down the road from where I am! I have always wanted to see the world and now that I have, I want to go home. We’re also looking into that possibility and making it a reality. At the same time, realising that our time, our going and coming are in His hands. So we wait and live and continue to bloom where we are planted. Thank you so much for letting me share with you this part of my life. Hugs, Sharon

  2. Wonderful post. The kvetching circles made me laugh, but they’re right on. Don’t you think a lot of workplaces would benefit from having a copy of that graphic on the wall by the water fountain? How fortunate that you had the experience of caring, and reciprocating that – in your community. Pretty uncommon, I think. I haven’t had it often at all, but I’ve moved a lot. I’m a newcomer where I live, once again, but just this morning a colleague I’ve know less than a year, and see only monthly, told me I should have leaned on her last week when there was some trouble with a project. It was good to hear that – I had not allowed her to have a clue, and maybe next time I will.

    • Thank you! The problem is how to identify when you need to break that inner circle, when the person is in true crisis and needs more help than s/he allows. That’s the issue I’m trying to figure out now. But I agree, this is a great start!

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