In a room, at the outskirts of a city, a young woman, 21 years, is giving birth to her first child, her baby girl. Her sisters, mother, and female cousins and friends are all around her. They console her, they squeeze her hand, and they also laugh that “knowing laugh”, while she screams in pain. They are all familiar with the joy of motherhood, the joy that comes after the pain. Some of the girls have not yet had children, but this attending experience is something that brings them fear, curiosity, and excitement.
In the coming months, various mothers will nurse the child, not just the child’s mother. They will take turns amongst each other of nursing, feeding, cleaning, and changing the linen diapers. They will keep the new mother company and feed her. The new mother will not be alone, she will not bear the load independently. All the women are at her side, and all the men understand this. No, their husbands and brothers will not participate in this work. They will jest together over coffee and cigarettes and their various vices and hobbies, laughing at the women and then resuming discussions about their own work and trades. Occasionally they will discipline the children, but until they are formed by their mothers, their interest in them is limited. The women are not upset that the men are not holding their babies and being up all night, because the men have laboured all day, physically in the field. They stretch out their legs to relax right now, but the truth is that they work hard as well. More than this, the women know that the house collapses without their own nurturing care. Without the women, the child will know nothing, be nothing, and will be scared and alone. There is no way of describing the vitality of mothers, there is no way to articulate what mothers do that makes them mothers – compound this when the mothers do it all together.
The young children, however, boys and girls, are not at the table with the fathers. They are out on the streets, they are playing. They alternate between soccer, racquetball, tag, and even hide and seek. They pull one another’s hair, they grab one another’s toys. They taunt one another, and they hug one another. They are cut and bruised, they are wounded and mended. They know no end to the fun that they have, except for the calls of their mothers ordering them to return in for bedtime. These children are a family. The girls are all sisters. The boys are all brothers. They were raised by one the whole village. They were, like the newborn baby, suckled by each others’ mothers. They have often all slept in the same house. Each knows the strengths and weaknesses of the other.
A little older than them, the young adult males are in their own world. They are discovering their destinies with one another. They still have a passion for sport, but they have lost something of their childhood sporadic fun. They have joy in their hearts that is only challenged when uncertainty arises: if they will have enough food, or if there will be jobs for them in the future. They wonder together, on their night time walks and late night friendly vigils, if they will ever travel far to work or see the world. They wonder if they will have their own families. They wonder if the girls they like will ever notice them. These young men are so close to one another that they are not afraid to pour out everything inside of them: their fears, their hopes, their dreams, their crushes, their failures, and of course their victories. They will show off in front of one another, and they can do this, because each knows the rest so intimately. Each is a brother to one another. Each will carry the other when times are difficult, and each will rebuke the other for foolishness. There is a bond so deep that nobody is surprised by, because everyone else also has these bonds with others, and carry those relationships throughout their whole lives.
The young women are not much different. They are learning skills and trades that will help them in the up-keeping of the home. To these women, there is nothing shameful or demeaning in this. There is no sense that the men are superior in their role, because the tasks of all are really, menial. That is, it is not the sophistication of men that allows them to work the fields and farm, or to raise cattle – it is merely their physique, their physiology. Together the girls laugh, tell jokes, jest with one another. They point out the truths of their brothers, husbands, and fathers, and laugh at their pride. The men know who are the true masters of the homes, and it’s not the men. The women know this and laugh at the sometimes absurd methods in which the men assert themselves. They wonder when they will become themselves mothers, as they witnessed in the birthing of children in the village. They wonder if they will have the same bonds with their children as they did with their mothers. They are free, and yet they are bound. The whole village is.
Because within the whole village there is a sense of commitment to one another. The men are not happy if the women are not fed or safe, they fear for them. The women are not happy if their men are in worry, or if the children are in pain. The mischief of one child is the worry of the whole street, and thus everyone is concerned for maintaining an environment of love. The burden of one is the burden of all. No man is an island, they say.
On Sundays, they pray. They go to the local church and they pray. This is a beautiful time, but it is not a unique time of coming together. It’s simply a change of location and a change of purpose. Throughout the week the whole community is with one another already. So the uniqueness of Sunday is to share in an even more meaningful way the community’s care for one another. On Sunday the remember the Lord’s communal love to them and the world. They partake of the Mysteries and are united to their God, and to the whole of Christendom. The community gets a little larger on Sunday. The shepherd gives a word of exhortation, reminds them of what it is to be a human, to be a son of God, to be an heir of the king. Sometimes he is rebuking, sometimes he is encouraging, but the shepherd grew up among them, so they know his heart and his love for them.
This is the world in which the child will grow. She will be nurtured, pampered and raised by the whole community. She will have a family that extends beyond the walls of her tiny little hut. She will have a richness in friends. She will be able to enter anyone’s house and talk about her problems or eat their food. She will know the names of everyone on her street: their parents, their cousins, and their pets. She will be supported by all. Every girl is her sister and every boy is her brother. If her future husband treats her badly, the whole village will scold him because the whole village raised him. If she acts the part of the fool, the village will let her know as well.
The love that is between them is a love that vanquishes fear. There is a freedom and an honesty between all because the foundation is love and knowledge of one another. There is never a sense of one being alone because one is never alone. There is never a time when there is not someone who will hear, understand or help carry another. There is safety.
Stop, now, and reflect. Forget about rights, and values and the stuff we philosophise over. Ask yourself if you feel supported in such a way. Ask yourself if you find pleasure in the simple things. Ask yourself if you are a support to anyone in this way, and if you put barriers on others or yourself in the way or amount of love that can be given. Ask if today we have this kind of care for the rest of our ‘village’ – our streets, our peers, our congregation members, or the homeless on the streets. Ask if we appreciate the work of others, if we sacrifice for one another, if we put the needs of others as either above or the same as our own personal needs. Ask if there is a sense of duty or roles, or if we care about the whole as much as the individual. It is easy to dismiss these things with one-liners: it’s idealistic, it’s communist, it’s demeaning, it’s far-fetched…any label can make this whole scenario get trashed in the bin. Yet, these people were happy, content, supportive, fulfilled, simple, and they have love. They have a roof above their heads, they eat every day, and they give thanks.
This is the command of God: that we love one another (John 15), that we clothe, feed, visit and care for one another (Matthew 25). We are told that if someone needs a jacket, to give him one (Luke 3), if we are asked to walk a mile, to walk two (Matthew 5). We are told that there are seasons of birth and death, and that we should weep and laugh accordingly (Ecclesiastes 3).
The whole world is God’s and we are the stewards, the caretakers. We have duties toward one another in sharing this world and this life that He gave to all of us. No land belongs to anyone, and no space belongs to anyone. The Old Testament was rooted in this and the New Testament did not abolish it. If we followed this, we wouldn’t be afraid of being alone. We wouldn’t be afraid of hunger. We wouldn’t be afraid of dealing with hardship by ourselves. We would never feel the isolation and coldness of abandonment because the love of God is extended through every human, through the hole of humanity:
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. – John 13:35
If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)
Love is self-denial. Folks, we need each other. We are called to be a community, not many individuals who simply share space.
For in the collective community, is God. It takes a whole village to raise on child.