It takes an Insta-Face-Whatsapp-in-person village: Redefining community

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Montpellier, France

After deep reflection on where home is and where to really dig in and set those roots, I’ve come completely full circle and decided that home is here. It’s more theoretical than where to buy a house, and it extends beyond the physical boundaries of a traditional community but still resembles the essence of the ‘it takes of village’ mantra.

Over the past several months we have been in and out of emergency rooms, traveling for work and fighting off infections, virus and fevers. Often times I felt like David tackling the unsurmountable strength of mega Goliath infecto-virus that I could barely destroy with all my mighty strength. On a positive note, I’ve improved my French medical jargon, and even considered a career change (Nurse Aman?) through it all, and we know how to better manage a dreaded fever. There were low moments, lots of tears and reflections. There have been timeless blasts of loneliness and wishing mom was here or someone from my girl gang.

Let’s rewind.

Rome, Italy

Almost six years ago I moved to Rome. I met a friend, Mel, that is now a very important person in my life. Through that friendship, we made another friend, Sally. I was building my new community in Rome, with an old-school Nokia in hand and prosecco running through my veins.

It was bittersweet as Sally had already spent some time in Italy, lived the Roman dream, and was now in the final cycle of her stay. Her life in Rome was nearing an end and unfortunately for us, what I thought would be this strong trio girl gang community, would actually remain a duo.

Sally set off home and there was minimal exchange on updates on life. I continued to build my community and eventually removed myself from all social media.

Social media makes unfollowing or de-friending difficult, but do I really need to be in touch with everyone from my second-grade class with Miss Coddington? We go through several life periods - elementary school, high school, college, different jobs, different cities, different you with a different set of friends and acquaintances that form part of that period. So, do we all need to stay in touch as we move to the next phase? Before we may have kept an address/phone book (remember those? My gran still has hers and uses it avidly.) and eventually you’d clean it out or discover phone numbers or addresses had been changed because life changes, and people move on into different physical spaces.

I kept the old-school Nokia until summer 2015 (however I had an iPad, is that cheating?), so about 2.5 years of my Roman life was with mainly with my physical community, sprinkled with my core friends and family who I stayed in touch with virtually.

Back to now

Early this year I found out my friend from Rome, Sally, had really endured some hardships, as many of us do. Social media is not the platform for everyone to grieve and share, many of us still prefer to keep things private, or grieve and manage death in a different way.

Sally’s daughter was stillborn. While I as bringing my second into the world, Sally had suffered one of the greatest losses. The insurmountable pain and distress that she had experienced was nothing I could even relate to or can even say I understand, quite frankly.

The daily support and energy for Sally reassures me that community still exists, it just may take a different form, and it may just take you being real and sharing your journey – the good, the bad and ugly.

There are no pre-requisites for earning your “Parenting Degree.” There is no Fever Management 101, there is no Tantrum mediation basics, nor Potty training introduction. You read, you ask, you Google, you try, you fail, and you get back up the next day (or maybe you didn’t sleep at night) and do it again, but better and with more wisdom. It’s a funny thing, too, the pregnancy journey. It is like every life emotion al strung together in 9 (sometimes less) months that take you through your own re-birth and magic, yet at the same time fraught with pangs of fear and waves of anxiety, especially as you venture into the unknown.

Following her posts, I embraced virtual Sally as she shared. She shared about losing her baby girl. She shared that she is inflicted with an auto-immune disease that could essential result in an early death. Until now it has been dormant, but now action needs to be taken to facilitate a liver transplant and procedure. I was devastated and immediately reached out to Sally, mother to mother, friend to friend. I reached out in a private message, because I couldn’t possible do it in a public space. What I felt and my eagerness to re-connect with Sally wanted me to knock on her door and give her a bear hug and sweep her off to a tea shop in town, but I had to settle for an Insta-DM.

The daily support and energy for Sally reassures me that community still exists, it just may take a different form, and it may just take you being real and sharing your journey – the good, the bad and ugly.

The connection was soothing and healing. I felt that I could still reach out my long virtual tentacles and still let Sally know she has a distant sister across the way sending positive energy and love.

Over the past year, Sally’s community has shown up and shown up BIG. There are a number of local fundraising activities and events in her neighborhood with proceeds going directly to support her. Everything from social dinners, coffees, and baked good offerings have been designed in ways to bring together the community and unite to support Sally. The daily support and energy for Sally reassures me that community still exists, it just may take a different form, and it may just take you being real and sharing your journey – the good, the bad and ugly.

Recently, a courageous young fellow stepped up to offer his liver to Sally, meaning he will give her half, and his will regenerate, and her new liver will grow, in time, to a sizable one. Beyond this act and the lead up was the strength of Sally’s community, but moreover the courage and heart of Sally who connected and bridged her physical and virtual community, giving me faith that we can truly create and nurture communities online, and it’s ok to stay connected.

You know what? In the end our community came through, too. It wasn’t as one would expect, like a mother down the street or a best friend from college who is a bus ride away, it was my colleague that hugged me when I burst into tears at the office, it was the friends that we’ve made here in France that sent their wishes and offered to come to the house to check in, it was Sauod at the coffeeshop who tries to practice his English and threw in extra croissants and pain a chocolat, on the house, as he saw our tired faces. It was the team of professionals that nurture and show affection and sincere support at the creche where our kids go every day. It is the ER team, that may recognize us by name now, given our frequent visits, and now know we’re not Mexican, but it’s ok because hablamos espanol aussi, merci monsieur, parce que mon mari e peruvian. It’s when mom checks in almost daily to see how we are doing, and declared she will now speak to her grandkids in Punjabi now on the phone. It’s my girl gang who sends encouragement through empowering audio messages on Whatsapp. It’s Mel that will like all your Instagram photos right after post even though we both just sat together and agonized over which photo, filter to share and tagline to insert. It’s FaceTiming with my cousin in Spain as we ching ching to a wine on a Friday night while the kids are doing Olympic level 9/10 gymnastic routines off of the living room couch. It is the all-star French hip hop artists that join us each evening directly from YouTube to jam out and transform the kitchen table into turntables and allowing the beats to drain our worries and move, shake a leg and vibe while we give thanks and appreciation to our full community – the physical one and the virtual.

We underestimate our community, and social media. I truly believe Sally sharing her experience, as well as the generosity of her community, is something that should be the crux of social media interactions. The true sense of community, not creating people who follow and like your postings, not just popping up with the latest fad, but truly giving non-stop support and rallying around your community. 

Through Sally’s journey, I’ve learned to respect and honor my entire village.