Building Community

One of my favorite books  in recent years is a memoir called “Between Two Kingdoms,” by Suleika Jaouad.  She was diagnosed ten years ago with an aggressive form of leukemia and spent four years in treatment. Once she was finished and declared “cured” by her doctors, she was at a loss of how to begin again, and embarked on a road trip across the country, meeting strangers who she had connected with through her blog while isolated in the hospital for months on end. Recently she posted on social media that her leukemia was back, after ten years of remission. She writes a blog called “The Isolation Journals,” and in a recent blog post,  she wrote about the importance of  building a community who will be there to support you when you need it most.

“So often we talk about resilience as stemming from the individual, not the collective—and of course, there are individual roots to resilience. According to the author Andrew Zolli, the most resilient people are the ones who believe in their own agency and who work to uncover meaning in the highs and lows of life. But an equally crucial component in resilience is having a strong community. And the two most important factors Zolli identified in cultivating a strong community is that you build your community before you need it, and that you do so with an initial act of generosity…showing up for the people we love in our very human and messy ways, trying and failing and trying again.”

She always has a guest blogger who shares a writing prompt along the same theme. The guest blogger, Elizabeth Lesser, continues along this thread, talking about how we show up for those we love who are hurting. How some people want to help with meal chains, medical advice, and self-help books…and others don’t help enough because of their own fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Instead, she quotes the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Han,“The most precious gift you can give to the one you love is your true presence. So my mantra is very simple: ‘Darling, I am here for you.'”

What a beautiful, simple statement. That we don’t need to always have the perfect thing to say, or the best casserole to bring, or the right book to give. That what is needed the most is simply our presence. Michelle Obama talked about this in her book, “Becoming,” when she reflected on school shootings and how there were no words to comfort the families who had lost so much. Instead, what they needed, was just for her to “sit with them in the riverbed of their suffering.” To remind them that they are not alone. That the best gift we can offer our fellow humans is the gift of our presence.

The world feels like a scary place right now. There is so much sadness and loss and anger on the news. We have dealt with some difficult things in recent months that I wish our kids didn’t have to face. Our thirteen year old has taken it all especially hard, because empathy is both her superpower and her kryptonite. I wish I could wrap her in bubble wrap and protect her from sadness and pain and fear. But it has brought about some really good, deep conversations about how to deal with these big emotions. There have been days on end when we have felt deep sadness that we couldn’t shake, but we talked about how lucky we are that we know those feelings are temporary and there will be happiness again. It has made me realize how many people in the world feel sad or lost or lonely all the time, without hope that things will get better. So many are hurting in our world.

And while I cannot wrap her up and protect her from sadness or fear, I CAN remind her, over and over again, that no matter what she will face in her life, she will never face it alone. We have built her community, and continue to build it, and there are so many who love her so well. And THAT is the greatest gift you are giving your son when you send him to Deerhorn. It’s not just two weeks of sports in the sun. It’s so much more than that. Every year he returns, his community grows a little more. And as he gets older, those relationship deepen and strengthen him as he goes out into the world on his own. Truly, many of my closest friends in the world are those in the Deerhorn Family. They are there for the joy and the pain, the celebrations and the sadness. They show up time and again to say, “Darling, I am here for you.”





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