NOT only does it take a village to raise a child, I've come to the conclusion that it also takes a village to raise an adult. We never stop growing up. We're never finished. We're all works in progress just trying to do our best and not always succeeding. We're human. And that's what humans do. Stuff up. And try again.
Just when you think you've got being an adult sorted, along comes big, fat, messy life and throws you a red herring, a poison chalice, a blessing in disguise or a total catastrophe just to keep you on your toes. Or on your knees. Or flat on your back and out for the rest of the season with a groin injury.
No matter how much we delude ourselves, life is never going to be a linear swim from pier to pub. We're all just paddling, hoping the next island gets us somewhere closer. To where? We don't know. We don't know where we're going. We just think we do. The only other options are treading water. Or sinking.
You can have your goals, your five-year plans and your illusion of security, but you can't count on them. It gives you a target to run to but don't be surprised if you find yourself detoured, disqualified or running past the finish line to find yourself off the map. In his book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, Gordon Livingston says: "Though a straight line seems to be the shortest distance between two points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the detours that define us." Ring a bell?
A few weeks back I wrote about everyday heroes. People suffering and battling loss, grief, hurt, pain, depression and addiction. I wrote about my huge admiration for these heroes who, despite everything, and with nothing but the smallest glimmer of hope, just keep going.
I received a big response to the piece both from people suffering and from others grateful to be reminded that there are people around us engulfed by pain. Some people we're aware of, but others keep their pain private and hold it close to their broken hearts. People we work with, family we live with and strangers who sit next to us on the tram, serve us our coffee or write the words we read in the paper.
It happens to all of us, at times. We go to a dark place on a journey alone. Walking blindfolded through a maze, not knowing the way out, just fumbling through. Hoping that with each step, each turn and each dead end that we will find ourselves in a better place, a happier place.
As much as we would like to, we cannot go with the people we love on these journeys. But we can help. And the mere act of helping can touch another human being's spirit. We are not just bones, skin, hair and blood. Most of who we are is not visible to the eye. Our thoughts. Our spirit. Our soul.
When my mother's house burnt down, she said that it wasn't the people who did the wrong things that upset her, it was the people who did nothing. Which taught me that when you don't know what to do, do anything. Be assertive in your caring. But don't stay long. And don't expect anything. Chances are if you say to someone, "call me if you need anything", they won't. So just do something. Anything.
Cook them a meal and tell them to keep the container. Call them. And if you leave a message, let them know they don't need to call back. Lend them your favourite movie and leave a stamped, self-addressed envelope so they can send it back to you. Take them to the library. Buy them some flowers. Walk their dog. Take them a pie for lunch. Organise a massage for them. Or buy them a pair of red socks. If they are stuck in bed, buy them a new set of sheets and change them if they'll let you. Do their washing. Take their kids to the park and bring them back fed and tired at bedtime. And when in doubt, make soup.
Just let them know you're there. Even if they're not. You'll be doing far more for them than you'll ever know, and far more for yourself than you'd think possible. Be there holding the lamp and you may be the light at the end of someone's long dark tunnel.
We're all in this together. One moment you're holding the lamp, the next you'll find someone's holding it for you. We'll all have good times, bad times, happy times, sad times and times that we won't remember. That is certain. The only thing we don't know is what order they'll come in.
Tomorrow night I will be sleeping in a car for the again for Women's Car Sleepout.
Check out the column I wrote last year for THE DRUM.