The Power of Your Tribe

The gift of friendship

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The blessing amidst brokenness

When I was growing up and faced school yard bullies, had a bad day in class or failed a test, I always knew the comforts of home awaited me at the end of the day. Other times it was my band of friends that would talk me out of a sticky situation, offer timely advice, listen to my boyfriend woes or stand up for me if needed.

Thinking of others too and considering if we were all really blessed, our siblings would give a supportive word, hug or even dealt with the bully once they found out who it was. It was a great feeling to know that someone was in our corner when life got hard!

So, what happens when we grow up, childhood friends and siblings grew distant or moved away, and bonds stretch to the max or eventually break?  It’s agonizing, but we are all imperfect people.

I have to regularly embrace the notion that life changes course all the time. It’s a struggle to accept sometimes. Though I do make new friends in my travels, I appreciate all memories made, lessons learned and move forward with lots of experience and hope it’s a mainstay during the journey. “It’s life” I’m told.

The Tribe

As I grow older I realize that quality friends are so very needed as life starts throwing wicked curves and we definitely need the shielding of those who not only know how to care, but show up. It’s an understood dynamic of mutual care and respect that we are here for each other. We all play our parts, they do theirs and I, mine. The tribe folks know how to comfort, love, are genuinely empathetic and it’s instinctual to pick up the phone, send texts, sit with us, drop a card in the mail or bring a meal without reservation. These are only a few exchanges that occur but are welcomed ones. They ask the right questions, look out for us, can be trusted with our pain, they don’t exploit us and their motives are pure. They support without any agenda, understand imperfections – theirs and ours –  and are there if we do call. It’s incredible to have such people in our lives and during the past few years dealing with the devastating loss of my mother, godparents, family, friends, quarantine periods and the pandemic, I realize how crucial each member is. Their skills, experiences, willingness, love and attributes are amazing and it’s a “heart work.”

They are the blessing I received amidst brokenness and didn’t realize how important they all are until I went through some real suffering and stressors. Many (but not all) of my tribe members were established while working at St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf, Bronx, NY. As we nurture and care for our students, diffuse their crisis situations, advocate, support, educate and protect them, that same mentality and characteristics carry over into our friendship circle. We are like-minded, in that respect. As a coworker said to me recently, “it is who we are, and why we do, what we do.” They have been a support system not only in the work we share for our students, but we are personally to one another as well. It’s the familial alliances that are so very meaningful and when there is a loss of a member, or family member, there is a corporate devastation and grieving. We all faced this collective hurt last year as a beloved tribe member and her husband passed away within a week of one another. There were others throughout the years that are sorely missed as well. We still haven’t fully recovered -they were beautiful souls and their absences are greatly felt and we share our history.

When faced with death, broken relationships and losses of every kind, these events do bring realizations to our lives. It sobers in the most painful, horrible way and rattles to the very core. Even the Bible states “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” ( King James Version, Ecclesiastes 7:2-3) It does bring forth an awareness of the precious nature of life we take for granted indeed.

I also realized that everything changes and can happen so quickly – one minute on the top of the world, then burying a loved one the next. Late night texts and phone calls take on a whole new meaning. Life can turn upside down in an instant and pummel us all.

A tribe knows how to step in and rally for my cause and I for theirs. We don’t even have to ask once they are aware, they offer. As members we have rights and privileges within one another’s lives as family and strive to exhibit and execute kindness. These are the folks who show up and are present when they can be. They sit with you in the ERs, wait for results, pray, stand at gravesites, take long walks, let you talk it out, take you on a drive or invite you out for a burger. The incredible list goes on.

Tribes are the Godsent folks who pick up the pieces of the brokenness, sweep the floor of the sorrows and just walk alongside during difficult times. But in good times when tides turn upward, they celebrate successes, support, affirm, share, empower, congratulate and are genuinely happy when another member thrives. They do all they can to help us grow and excel – despite challenging situations. They can read heartache without us saying a single word. If there is a disagreement, we separate for a time and then reunite even stronger because we know we can. Apologies are not afar off because as members of this tribe we value relationships as a commodity — as assets. There is deep care and value even in differences that are hopefully short-lived. Though in reality we all have imperfections and that in and of itself is a gift we can learn from. Each path differs and that’s valid with the bends in the road.

Grief Journey

Grief is grief no matter what form it takes in our lives. Whether it is the loss of a loved one, a divorce, broken relationship, health issue, caregiving, empty nest, or job loss, etc…. the tribe is ok with our hurts, our shortcomings, growing pains and humanity. They become family, they know us and sympathize with what we are going through after a supportive talk. They are simply there and have our best interest in mind. Even when we embark on making poor decisions they execute tough love like any good, big sister or brother would. They want to protect us from harm and heartache and are trustworthy as they give advice. It’s important to point out that this is reciprocal – and it works like a well-oiled machine. They give of themselves with respect for healthy boundaries even if ours are weak. We all are flawed beings and recognize limitations that makes us all human. We can’t take one another for granted as roles in life change and kindness a priority.

I look at my tribe in true admiration and reflection…it’s the redeeming quality in brokenness, I reiterate. It’s the gift I received from a shattered heart, struggles with doubts and disappointments. It’s these relationships that are a soft place to fall when everything around is hard. COVID has shown us the incredible value of time and the fragility of life and it’s a crucial lesson to recognize this. Lives have been shattered by the cruelty of this virus. Nothing is for certain and we have to be grateful for the imperfect good in our lives. Support is so crucially needed for so many, as the losses people are facing are unfathomable. Some are simply drowning in sorrow and inner conflict daily with mental health struggles. We all need a tribe, to be a part of one fosters growth, hope and supports our faith. Just ask and we show up.

The irony of it all is that sometimes it takes life’s tough journeys to realize this blessing.  If we all take an assessment of our good friends, our chosen family, the tribe provides a glimpse into the much needed compassion these days. With incredible gratitude that I and others have tribes to lean in on for comfort, love and care or provide for when needed, I’m truly, truly thankful for the benevolence that I can give and receive.

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More Thrive Global on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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