It took me a while to notice that the idea that came to me when I was writing that post--the phrase I had in mind was "it takes a village to raise an adult, too"--had opened up a new path in my heart. The proverbial roads diverged, and although I kept on the original path for a while, eventually I gave in to the urge to double back. The idea of helping adults was a hard one for me, but when it led me back to a dormant desire to start working actively as a doula, I took a deep breath and started putting one foot in front of the other.
I don't know whether it's going to be a permanent change in course. It looks increasingly like it might be, but although acknowledging that is a scary thing, I've changed course enough times in my life to know that if you really can't get that other path out of your head, it's probably worth the risk. As I've gone further this way, and found so much wonder and joy here, I'm more and more convinced I've made the right choice.
The path I've traveled has been full of this kind of change, but looking back, I can see that I was always heading this way, though different choices might have meant different paths.
I started with a grand scheme of saving, or at least changing, the world, out of a love for and idealistic vision of humanity. As I got a little bit older and saw more things and, frankly, got tired, I struggled with the fact that I was pretty sure I was never going to be able to change the world. I was forced to grapple with the idea that maybe what I loved about humanity wasn't a real version of what people are or can be, because on an individual level I was struggling an awful lot to even like individual people very much. We're smelly, internally-oriented, and often self-serving creatures, and inherently a little bit hard to love. It was easy to love a broad concept of humanity. Look at all the things humans have done, I could tell myself, look how beautiful.
But on a day-to-day basis I was only ever seeing checkout clerks and traffic cops and racist graffiti and people cutting each other off on the highway. At the time, I couldn't reconcile my idea of Humanity with these seemingly robotic individual humans.
So I narrowed my focus down to local neighborhoods, and then to community services to children, through education and library work. I focused for a while on Saving the Kids, because I, like many others, believed that if we can save the kids, they'll change the world. And that's not a bad belief, by any stretch, or even a particularly weak one--we need people to help the kids so that they know how to build the world they want. Each generation changes the world, to be sure, and the changes often head in both directions. As Charlotte Perkins Gilman said, "It is the duty of youth to bring fresh new powers to bear on Social progress. Each generation of young people should be to the world like a vast reserve force to a tired army. They should life the world forward. That is what they are for." And they need help.
As I started looking for jobs in that field, though, I realized I was still deflecting and avoiding that question of how to love individual people--all individual people--instead of just feeling like I could love them if only they'd subscribe to a particular kind of Humanity, writ large. Loving most of the kids was easy, because they were eager to be the kind of person I wanted them to be. Except I wasn't living up to that ideal, either. Not really. I didn't know how to be the kind of person I wanted everyone else to be.
So I came back around to the phrase in my head: "it takes a village to raise an adult." Although I used different words in the Matilda post, that's the idea I started with.. The thing is, it's not about Humanity, or about our countries or states or cities or neighborhoods. Or, it is about all of those things, but those things are all units of a whole, and they're not the smallest units. Beneath neighborhoods we have households and families, and ultimately, the smallest unit of Humanity is the Human. You can't change the world without all of those individual, smelly, selfish, broken human people. Any approach that tries to change the world without them--without people as they are--is doomed to either fail or to become tremendously oppressive (and then fail).
If that's the case, though, we're back again to trying to figure out how to get smelly, selfish individual people to take care of each other, and that's another hard thing. We're afraid of each other, sometimes acutely, and although most of us want to find a way to change that, we forget that we have to start with ourselves. It's my experience that in order to change anything, we first have to face our own monsters, especially if our monsters are one another. And not only do we have to face them, we have to face them with the knowledge that we can't--we mustn't--defeat them. Defeating means removing them from the equation, or changing their value, and that's just not going to work.
What we can do is help each other. That means everybody, anybody willing to give you the chance (and you may have to offer unasked for the chance to become available). Anybody who needs your help deserves your help, if you can offer it. If you can't, be brave enough to accept it from someone else. Be brave enough to know when someone needs help, even if that someone is you, and be brave enough to make sure help arrives, whatever that means. Show up. Be brave. Believe in yourself so we can believe in each other.
Yes, you can.