One summer day, the kids and I visited the local park. They both had new toys to take for a spin; Kaden a skateboard, Mariah a princess bicycle. I just wanted to go somewhere that required minimal supervision on my part. I scanned the area discretely behind my over-sized sunglasses. I caught a glimpse of the different activities taking place – a tennis match, a basketball game, skateboarding, and an enormous crowd of people gathered under the park’s pavilions. Seeking serenity, I found the perfect spot on a wooden bench planted perfectly by the playground. I marked my territory.
We had to settle for the smaller, less engaging playground. Our normal location was being occupied. Laughter and endless chatter hovered over the area like a blanket of sunshine. It sounded like a “funky, good time”. The smell of barbeque teased the senses of those not taking place in the festivities. I noticed several coordinating t-shirts baring a tree logo with what appeared to be the family’s name. There were people everywhere. I knew immediately a family reunion was taking place.
After a few minutes, a couple and their children joined us on the playground. Kaden was still conquering his Shred Sled on the concrete path bordering the sliding board, and Mariah had ditched her bicycle for a rather steady chain bridge. I barely moved an inch out of the spot I first claimed when we arrived. I’d yell out an occasional command for the kids to receive, but there wasn’t a lot of verbal interaction. I was going for the no fuss approach and wasn’t prepared to mingle with anyone. I must have released a bit of inviting energy into the air because the couple walked over my way.
“Excuse me. Do you know what’s going on over there and why there are so many people here?” The man pointed in the direction of the celebration as if I was somehow oblivious to it all.
“Oh! That’s a family reunion. They have them here all the time.” I offered the simplest answer possible, hoping they would both understand and be on their way. Unfortunately, I didn’t get off so easily.
“What’s a family reunion exactly?” The frown marks on his forehead suggested he was not too familiar with concept. His accent also led me to believe that this tradition of celebrating family wasn’t the only thing that was foreign. I took my time explaining what a family reunion was. My teaching session proved to be unsuccessful. The couple listened, but unintentionally interrupted our conversation with a few head scratches, folded arms, and sarcastic laughs.
They stayed on the playground a bit with their two boys. Every now and then the woman would pose questions about Mariah, finding a topic we could both relate to. I observed the man simultaneously looking at the family reunion and watching his family from afar. He was intrigued, as was I by him. I couldn’t figure out why or how a celebration of family was such a far-off concept to them. I thought this was the norm. Don’t we all have family? Who did they turn to for support? What village did they belong to?
Growing up, I was always surrounded by family. Thank goodness I never made a fuss over the political correctness of a person’s role. A family friend could easily be called “uncle” or “aunt” so-and-so without having any relation at all. It was the whole “village” concept, meaning everyone took responsibility in raising a child; permission to guide, regulate, and promote their growth.
How many people know their cousin’s cousins? What about greats and great greats? Too often I meet people that only explore the immediate members of their family. I hear stories of how it will be the first time their child, and even their first time, meeting a cousin, aunt, or uncle. I find it a bit intriguing myself, identical to the thoughts of the family I met at the playground. Our traditions, customs, and celebrations were unique only to us. Still, they were no less unusual or any superior to one another’s experiences.
The family reunion was winding down. People began to flock from the pavilion area like the let-out of a concert; the show was a blast, but now it was over. Hugs, kisses, and laughs were shared amongst the various people baring the golden-colored t-shirts. Some people were leaving with goodies in the form of paper plates covered with aluminum foil. No way was all that good food I had smelled upon my arrival going to waste. And neither was the opportunity for the man to speak to one of the people leaving the reunion.
“Hello. I just wanted to see what was going on over there. Who is the Gray family?” The man had managed to build an invisible corner around a lady walking across the playground area to get to her car. She hesitated a bit, but answered him with a smile.
“Oh, we’re from the area. Do you know…” Her voice began to fade as more people poured into our once serene area. I can imagine she was explaining to him exactly who they were. I noticed his posture had perked a bit, and he openly engaged in conversation.
The woman was still on the playground watching the boys. I had motioned for the children to meet me at the bench. It was getting late, but not dark, and we needed to grab a bite to eat.
Just as I was loading the skateboard and bicycle into the trunk, the man jogged over to me. “Not again?”, I thought. As it turns out, he had gone to school with a few of the people. He and his small family had moved to the area when he was a young child, and he wanted to continue to raise his family here. He was connected to their village and never even knew it. I gave him an imaginary pat on the back for his ‘discovery’. I waved good-bye from the back of the car over to the woman and the boys. Our work here was done.
“It takes a village to raise a child.” We have all heard this African proverb over the years and may have never thought to think about who the actual members of our village are. My village consists of my family, friends, teachers, coaches, and other families that directly affect me and those around me. My village consists of individuals that pray for me and not prey on me. My village is the place I call home no matter how often I visit. My village may not be your village, but we are all connected in some fashion.
So tell me, who is in your village?