We are wired for connection.
People belong in community.
We need each other.
I explained my passion for the value of connection between humans in my 2018 TEDx Winnipeg talk, weaving the metaphor of the interconnected sequoia trees with stories of connection in my life.
The sequoia tress, one of the tallest trees in the world, has shallow roots, and only remains standing for hundreds, even thousands of years because of the manner in which the roots are intertwined and connected.
These trees only survive because of the community they have created for each other.
I spoke of Bonnie and my youngest Junior Tribe Member as the third of three stories in the talk. He was sullen and angry and couldn’t/wouldn’t talk about it. We could see he was suffering.
We needed to do something. His mom had died, and he now had a bonus parent raising him and that creates a lot of big feelings that need feeling, but this world just doesn’t make it easy for boys to talk of tender things.
I wanted him to talk to a therapist, and he refused. I asked him if he would talk to another mom if I arranged it. He could just pretend to hate it.
Y’know how kids need to be angry with you, even thought they might be relieved that you took action? Yep, it was like that.
He met with Bonnie a few days later. She picked him up and they went to Starbucks and then drove around Assiniboine Park for an hour, slowly, not looking at each other. When it is hard to talk, sometimes, the less eye contact, the better. Sometimes they talked. Sometimes it was quiet. Always, it was good.
That first car-ride-visit was good for him.
It wasn’t like he was any different after that first visit, but we could tell that he found it worthwhile.
I put a Starbucks card in a card, and put it on his pillow with a note, admiring him for his courage and his wisdom. I told him I would put money on the card whenever it was close to empty. He had an unlimited Starbucks card for meeting with Bonnie.
And they continued to drive around for a while together every week or two.
Bonnie agreed to continue to the arrangement as long as we understood:
- She would keep their conversations private, with the caveat that if there was anything that a parent needed to know, she would tell us.
- She wasn’t a therapist, and we needed to know that she didn’t really know what she was doing. She was just a mom who loved our boy and she knew how to listen.
She was there for us. Lately it’s been our turn to be there for her.
There was a slow but persistent thaw in that sweet boy over the following months. The most obvious sign was the hair cut Bonnie took him for at Christmastime, and we saw this short stylin’ cut on this boy who had worn his hair very long for a while. There were other clues too that were little nuggets of goodness.
Signs of healing. We were grateful.
Bonnie is my hero. She’s real and warm and matter-of-fact. My Junior Tribe Member is quick to point out that she speaks “teenage boy” in a way that I don’t. Apparently she’s way cooler than me, too.
That’s ok. I have never claimed to be cool.
Bonnie was there for my JTM in a way I could not be.
Bonnie is a tree in my human forest.
She was always there…and when I needed her for our boy, she stepped in.
None of us could ever have imagined how one day, not so long after, she would need us.
All of us. In a big way.
Turns out, life throws curve balls. In the blink of an eye, the helper becomes the one who needs help.
Sometimes a person helps patch another soul in their human forest together. Other times, they are the ones whose soul has been tattered in the storms of life.
Bonnie wrote this on Facebook for her community to see:
This past few months have taught me a lot. Mostly about the incredible love that I am surrounded by and connections that I have developed.
When after months of Dan’s mental health declining, Cole and I needed to leave our home very quickly, people stepped up to house us. We had a place to stay with no notice, we just showed up. When another friend helped find an apartment to rent on a month to month basis, people stepped up and helped us move, provided furniture and love, when Dan’s mental health declined and he took his life, people stood by Cole and I as we said goodbye to the man that we had loved, who was gone before his body was.
To the people that planned the celebration of life and made a tragic event have purpose and meaning and gave a place for so many to unpack some tough feelings, the people that then moved Cole and I back into our home and cleaned and made it new and comfortable, the friends that surrounded us as we have been so lost and hurting, to this past week, the people who sat with Cole and I as he was hurting so much that he too did not know how to go on with life, and reached out in a way that was drastic and required a hospital stay. To the friends that came and showed him how loved he is. Who sat with him and reminded him of the light outside the darkness.
The friends that have brought us food, sent skip the dishes gift cards, sent cards of love and sympathy and those that have given hugs, and whispers of encouragement and understanding.
It is overwhelming, but each act pokes a hole in the darkness and reminds Cole and me of the light and love that we are surrounded with. To the folks who after receiving a text at 7am in a plea of help are helping to finalize the move out of the apartment and get the house organized.
There are no words of thanks, no thank you notes enough.
But I leave you with the image of the Sequoia trees, who stand together in a forest, whose roots are connected over distances, who hold each other during strong winds and storms, who grow together in the sun and rain and are a beautiful image of the community.
I stand among you, this season is a stormy one, to the many of you who are supporting me, I feel your support, I know you are there.
Bonnie is a person who hasn’t just invested in my JTM’s life–she is the favourite car pool mom for all the boys.
Bonnie has lent support and kindness to many over the years, not because she is so special (though she is) but because she is human. As is normal for so many, she has lived and worked and moved in community, lending support and caring because she knows we need each other.
And now she needs us.
The helper became the helped one in a seamless and organic way.
She moves from a place of giving to a place of receiving. She needs our help, and we are there for her.
I don’t know that is is hard for her to accept help, or easy—I just know that it is necessary.
That’s what we do when we live in community together. We help each other.
This support did not get manufactured when tragedy struck her family. The support was there all along. Relationships of depth are always ready to be activated in the direction it needed to go. Unawares of what was happening, Bonnie was growing her support network even as she was helping all of us, even as we shared car pool and visited about our lives on the bleachers. We were living our lives, preparing the soil for the support needed for the upcoming heartbreak.
It has inspired me all over again to know that, like it or not, we are all living in either:
- a hard time right now, or
- in the time in between the hard times.
We do best when we are part of the fabric of a larger community…folks who we enjoy life with daily, and who are ready to an anchor in each other’s lives when the storms of life threaten to knock us off our feet.
Bonnie had prepared the fertile soil of her life to be securely held when so much of what she knew came undone.
We get ready for the hard times in the good and medium times, unawares that we are integrating our lives with others in the everydayness of life. Those connections will moor us to sanity when the storms of life threaten to overtake us.
There is a lot to be sorted out yet in Bonnie’s life. Uncertainty. Grief. Distress. Struggle through the discomfort of a new reality, and all that it looks like.
There is one thing that is known in a rock solid way: She’s got friends who will continue to provide firm mooring in the coming days.
When Bonnie posted this yesterday on her Facebook feed I asked if I could share it. She agreed. She’s into composting heartbreak. I admire her for that–finding ways to turn the crap of life into something that may be of use to others. Her courage astounds me.
Please…let her words sink into you. May they inspire you to reach out to someone in your human forest who is struggling. Or perhaps, just as important, let someone in your network know a struggle you face and where they might help to let them pour some life into you?
The video Bonnie is featured in, and refers to above: