Over the holidays our family ventured across the world for an unforgettable and life-changing experience in South Africa. We went on safari and saw so many animals up close in their natural habitat, we explored wine country, and saw all the sights in Cape Town. One of the most memorable experiences was a day in a nearby village. The villagers had to walk to get fresh water, had three-room schoolhouses, and often lived with extended family. We saw firsthand where the African proverb “it takes a village” comes from. Many parents work on the nature reserves or safari camps and spend several weeks at a time there, so child raising is done by grandparents or extended family.
At the end of our trip I took a bad fall sand boarding and had emergency surgery for a fractured collar bone. I had no idea that the impactful experience I had in the village was a sort of foreshadowing to what the next month would hold for me. I learned a lot about myself and the true meaning of it takes a village.
IT’S O.K. TO ASK FOR HELP
I came home in a considerable amount of pain, was not able to drive or do much, and needed to rest and allow my body to heal. This sounds like an easy recovery plan but with three active children, a dog, and an upcoming move, it was anything but. My husband went above and beyond to help and take care of me but with a busy full-time job he couldn’t do it all. I realized I enjoy helping others but have a hard time asking for help. I tend to think I can do it all and anything less is a sign of weakness. Sometimes it takes a drastic experience to make me realize there is no weakness in asking for or needing help. My village, which includes extended family, rallied around us with meals, dog walks, laundry, carpools, and help getting us packed and prepped to move. When we can’t do it on our own either physically or emotionally, it is invaluable to have a village to lean on.
ACCEPT THE HELP
Another part of having an amazing village is when that village knows what you need before you even ask. By the time we arrived home, we had meals set up several times a week for the following three weeks. We had an outpouring of help and support, but I’ll admit there came a point where I thought I couldn’t ask one more person to do something. I was tired of asking, I was tired of being needy, and I just wanted to get in my car and drive to the grocery store myself.
One of my friends ran into my sister and told her she wanted to help but didn’t know how. My sister told her, “She won’t ask for help but if you show up and offer it, she won’t turn you down.” This was true. Whether it was a ride to physical therapy or help cleaning out closets for the move, I needed help because I couldn’t do any lifting or move my arm much. Friends came to help pack and take things to Goodwill. I learned to accept the help and in turn became a good delegator.
I am now more than a month out from the accident, and have been cleared to drive and have resumed a lot of normal activities. If there is one thing this experience taught me, it was gratitude. Gratitude for health, and that this was what I called a “fixable problem.” Gratitude for the countless family and friends for their help and support. I always try to look for silver linings in tough situations, and the one here was the number of friends who came to visit and help keep my spirits up — many whom I don’t often see.
I can truly say without a doubt our family would not have been able to get through January without our village. I am thankful for the African village that allowed me to see and experience how important it is to have a village, to lean on your village when you need it, and in turn to help and support others to keep the village thriving and strong. I had no idea that day how important those lessons would be in my own life, and I am grateful for the life lessons the accident has taught me. No matter whether it is a new baby, death of a family member, an injury or a major life-altering event, look to your village — they are there and willing to help.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive and healthful conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected]