It’s happened again and again. I wake up and it’s bittersweet, because I wake up to a reality that I love but at the same time the dream was so precious and part of me wants to linger there a while longer.
I constantly dream of community. Being surrounded by people. Being part of a larger “family”.
I miss something that I have rarely known in my own life.
After seeing the movie “My big fat Greek wedding” years ago I found myself wishing I were Italian, or Greek, or from a big Spanish family. I imagine how the door is always open and they come in and out, engaging in unrestrained participation of each other’s daily lives. It’s loud and busy, and messy – and it’s something that I long for without ever having known it. How can you miss something you never had?
I grew up in a culture far away from my extended family. Aunts, uncles, grandparents and all my cousins were on one side of the Atlantic and we were on the other. The reality is that I do have a large extended family, especially on my father’s side, that is loud and crazy and numerous. But we only saw each other once every two years and it was hard to get that familiar feeling when waiting 24 months between visits. Reunions with my extended family remains one of my favorite times and I always leave feeling full and so blessed.
However even when we moved back to the States we were still far away – turns out America is pretty sizable, and from one coast to the other I can easily be just as far as if I were in another country. So my daily tribe remained my little family unit made up of my parents and my two sisters. And the truth is that I am so thankful for them. We all do our own thing now, but even to this day we communicate daily through group texts and we gather once every few months and I love it. Human contact with loved ones feeds the soul and is non-negotiable for health and happiness.
Then I went and fell in love with my husband and our two mini tribes of boys collided into a larger brady-bunch tribe on testosterone. My world became loud and crazy for over a decade. It was fun and exhausting. But kids tend to grow – as they should – and I realize they aren’t here to stay. We have watched proudly and yet tearfully as each of our boys has grown and launched out into their own orbit. And we have felt the void that their departure leaves in our daily lives.
I do my best to respect their new found autonomy. Yet part of me wishes that I was the nosy mom who barges in, uninvited, with homemade lasagna once a week. I wish they would barge into my house uninvited. I wish the messy mixing of our lives would continue. Somehow texting just doesn’t cut it for this momma. Holidays and family meals have become my highlights. I look forward to them for months – and then suddenly, in a whirlwind of food, conversations and laughter, they are over and the quiet returns.
Yet this yearning both bothers and intrigues me – sometimes I have almost woken up from my recurring dream in tears. Am I not happy with the little tribes I am a part of? Is it not enough? What more do I need to feel a true sense of belonging to a community?
I actually think this is a healthy yearning – like any longing it signals that there is a lack, and once I am aware of it, I can address it. Realizing that I have a subconscious need for closer community is a good thing. The truth is that I don’t need to wake up sad from my dreams, feeling as if I have a deeper connection with the tribe in my dreams than in reality.
Instead I can decide to build a closer community. I can be intentional regarding the people that are in my life and I can choose to go deeper with them. I can bring more involvement, more sharing, more helping – it can start with me. I don’t have to wait around for my loud Greek family to walk in the door unannounced. I can call my son and stop by after work. I can text my friend all day and plan to meet up for coffee over the weekend. I can leave work earlier so that I can walk the dog with my husband. I can call my parents just to talk about their day. There are a million ways in which I can involve myself with my tribe. I can even invite new people to be a part of it by reaching out to them, investing time and energy getting to know them, and finding out what they might need from their community.
When I wake up from my dreams, the truth is that I have a lot of people around me that are a beautiful part of my tribe. People I live with but also people I work with, worship with, party with and serve with. They are here for a season and truthfully I don’t know how long that season may last, so I need to invest in them while I can because it is a privilege to do any part of life together – even if only for a short while.
The magic happens when we become aware of our blessings and then intentional about our part in it. Suddenly the phone calls are more meaningful. The chess game is a treat. The meal we share is a time of deeper exchange. And all at once everywhere I look I see crazy members of my tribe that enrich my day and give meaning to even the mundane occurrences like doing dishes together. Whether my tribe is big or small, when I stop waiting for them to come find me – I am able to find belonging in the community that is already all around me.