It takes a village to raise a child. I’d heard it said many times before and 3 years ago at a neighbour’s child’s naming ceremony it was said once more. And once more, I didn’t really get it.
Moreover, I have no children, nor do I want them, so phrases like this one kind of pass me by and leave me unmoved. And yet a little voice somewhere in my mind had begun to whisper this sentence to me quietly, somewhere in the distance of my mind. What never occurred to me was that maybe the tired old saying doesn’t necessarily refer to children, or indeed to villages.
I moved to my little village 6 years ago having fallen in love with it before we were given the keys. The solitude, the peace, the wilderness that surround it made it an irresistible setting for my wife and I. As the first year passed we found ourselves guests at more neighbours’ houses than we’d ever experienced anywhere else. Warm, generous, curious characters, all new to me but who quickly formed the basis of a new family. Having moved away from my own family many years ago and with my circle of close friends ever-changed by births, deaths and the drifts that real life brings (not that any of there is any less love between us all, but personal growth does see us all move in different directions), I hadn’t realised how much - as well as those important, lifelong connections - I needed a solid network physically around me again, until it had happened.
So the ‘village’ in the old phrase doesn’t have to mean bricks and mortar, but that’s not to say it can’t mean exactly that either. It may even exist across many timezones. It just means community. Those who’s influence you seek and to whom you’re prepared to return the favour, at any time of night or day. Life presents you with many important decisions, none less poignant than who you choose to surround yourself with.
My Mum and dad chose to begin a new life away from loved ones in their 30s, moving from urban Manchester to rural Somerset. They wanted a slower pace, more room to breathe and discover themselves. And eventually time repeated itself with me, moving away (admittedly within the same county!) for University and - on meeting the love of my life - never going back. In another parallel, I’ve been driven to make my own way in my working life, and so it was I found myself - following a series of predictable misadventures as a new graduate - working my way through the ranks of the investments world some years ago which is where I am still. During these years of honing my skills as a consultant I fell victim to an unexpected side-effect; the loss of time for my ‘other stuff’. My music, reading and latterly watchmaking competed for ever-decreasing slots in my schedule. As responsibility at work grew, everything else had to shrink. Until I decided not to let it. Over a period of a couple of years I decided to make a bit of a stand and put my time first, giving my creative side time to blossom again and maybe even earn money from…a ‘hobby’!! I dropped the idea into conversations with neighbours during dinner parties and barbecues and this is when something really important happened. They said “You can do it.” More importantly (to this story anyway), they followed it with “we’ll help you” and “I know a guy…” and “I’ll speak to my friend at…”. Their energy and compassion are among the most important ingredients to the growth that followed and follows still.
We all have things we want to see grow: a child, an animal, a garden, a talent, a business, a home. Things that we pour our time and energy into and that we want to see nourished and flourishing. And yes it’s possible to carry these things through life in solitude, but imagine if instead your love and your nourishment were multiplied by the amount of people around you; imagine the chance your child is suddenly given to succeed.
My friend’s children are…their children. Beautiful, hopeful, insightful, hilarious children that I want to be there for, to guide, to inspire, to give lifts to and have the conversations with that are too difficult to have with Mum & Dad. And my children are my dreams. My endeavours, my ventures, the passions I want to nurture and build upon. And I know that my village - inhabitants both literal and metaphorical - will be there to help guide and inspire those dreams. I think we need to surround ourselves with people who nourish us. Solitude has its moments but you can’t evolve alone. The right people will give advice when asked, simply because they care.
As I write this I realise a more salient and more simple point; perhaps I am the child in the story. I am certainly on a path every day to discover myself and try to grow.
So yesterday I stood in the same place I’d stood 3 years ago for another naming ceremony - the baby brother of the first child I spoke of. “It takes a village to raise a child'“, said the speaker. And I got it. And I beamed with happiness, and with gratitude.