“It takes a village to raise a child”
— African proverb
I was raised by a village. Not that my parents didn’t play an integral part in my upbringing, we just felt a strong connection with the high-caliber people we lived around.
It was those exceptional people that were a vital part in helping me become who I am today.
I try hard not to think about how many of those neighbors saw me in just a diaper, or even less when I was a toddler. Then again, the memories I’ve made with them since those days have more than made up for all that.
The neighborhood that I grew up in was a blend of families with young children and empty nesters. We had plenty of other kids to play with, but there were also many of the older generations to learn from as well.
Now, 20 years later, many those empty nesters are nearing their death beds.
These are people that I remember looking up to as a young man, thinking that they were never going anywhere. I didn’t realize that I would be the one going around the world and back again, only to return briefly before moving on to begin a family of my own.
Now it’s nearing the time when I’ll have to say goodbye to each of these old friends. For some, that goodbye has come and gone in the last year. While I do sorrow to see my village begin to pass on, I often find myself more grateful for their livesthan sad at their passing.
Let alone that many of them welcome death partly due to our faith and partly due to their spouses having passed away months and even years previously.
I do and will miss them, but I hope to carry on their legacy by continuing to live what they’ve taught me.
Each of us has a different path, and that’s good
Each of the three old friends I’ve had to say goodbye to recently was very distinct. One was a professor. Another had the entrepreneurial bug. And the most recent one to leave us was passionate about scouting.
I’ve learned that, although varied in specifics, each of their roads was important. They had touched so many lives along each of their individual paths. I got to witness that influence by being at their funerals and seeing the many people that came to honor them.
My path is different from theirs and even from yours. We are, each of us, wildly, beautifully unique. I know it’s been said many times that there will never be another human like you in the world, but it’s true.
Sometimes, it’s the simplest truths that, through frequent repetition, become cliche and lose their force in our lives.
The cliche doesn’t make them any less true, though.
I’m working on owning my path in life. It’s not always easy. I find myself wanting to follow exactly in the footsteps of those I look up to most. Sometimes I even beat myself up for not being more like them.
But if there’s anything I’ve learned from watching these friends pass on, it’s that each life is unique and important in its own way.
I am always impressed by the work ethic of the older generations. In an era of 4-hour workweeks and productivity guru’s, I think we can learn a lot from the examples of good old fashioned hard work in earlier generations.
That’s not to say I’m not a fan of working smart, though.
If there’s anything I’ve learned by being raised by really hard working individuals, it’s this:
Hard work precedes smart work.
I even found myself practicing this today as I sat wondering how I was going to be most efficient at the work I had set out to do. I was paralyzed by the fear of doing something wrong.
Once I started to just work as best I knew how, the inspiration began to flow.
Every one of the three individuals I’ve seen pass away in the last year was a hard worker. I appreciated their example to me in that. As I grew up, I tried to develop a strong work ethic, and these friends were vital to that.
Each funeral I’ve been to in the last year has shown me the depth of love that can be developed in a family. I’m working hard to build that love in my own young family, and the examples I have all around me are helping significantly.
It solidifies my commitment to family each time I see a son or daughter get up and with tear-filled eyes pay tribute to their late parent.
What’s more, I often hear how close the siblings were to each other and how close the deceased was to their spouse. I get a sense that each of my friends that passed on was focused first on the family.
I also have the benefit of watching my own Father, as the ecclesiastical leader in the area, conduct these funerals. He always gives the closing remarks and has a habit of sharing stories that make everyone laugh and also those that make us cry.
I know that eventually, I will be the one at the pulpit talking about how much I love and miss my own parents. They both have worked hard to own their paths and put family first all along the way.
I love and am grateful for my village. As I see them begin to pass on, I only hope that I can pay it forward, honoring their legacy by being part of that village to help everyone in my path.