I’m not religious but I believe in something ‘other’, something greater than me (whatever various religions or believers may call it), because look at nature. Human beings certainly didn’t create our natural world; we’re still trying to figure it out. To the best of our knowledge about 5-30 million species exist on earth, but we’ve only described about 2 million of them. We have a lot of work left to do. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, my immediate segue into nature or comparison with our natural environment should not surprise you. True to form, here comes another one. Two ways in which we describe the natural world, is to talk about the web of life (not just a food chain) and ecosystems. Those concepts apply to human beings as well, and similarly we talk about villages and communities and the connections therein.
This post is not about travel (unless you contextualize travel as thoughts and relationships through time and bridging continents) nor will it have many photos. It’s about a particular village, a community and a reflection on how actions, though seemingly minor, can have long-lasting impacts.
Getting back to where I started (as much as such a thing is possible), I’m not religious and I seldom go to church, but I try very hard to live in a ‘certain way’ and that ‘way’ rests in large part on how I was raised. In my blog posts I frequently allude to my family and friends who are family. Sometimes I share a detail or two, often it’s a mention, but I felt the urge today to write about a group of special friends and tell them thanks. Thanks, because they have been positive influences in my life in innumerable ways. Influences that I have taken for granted or not even recognized.
Today is the birthday of one such friend and as I was sending him birthday wishes, it struck me that I had never thanked him for being the role model that he has been for me for most of my life. So, I told him. Then I started to think about childhood and teenage friends and how they have factored into me being the person that I am (blame them if you will 😊) and am becoming; because let’s face it, if we’re lucky, it means that who we are today, is not exactly who we will be tomorrow. We should always be learning, growing, evolving, manifesting, becoming … the best version of our selves. The person I am today, felt the need to pay tribute to these friend- and other kinds of ships.
Usually, when I talk about my family, I acknowledge their love, support, value of education, hard work, determination, innovativeness, striving for more, dreams, etc.. From my family I learned and copied these characteristics, but it wasn’t only from family. I saw these and other characteristics mirrored by my family’s friends and by my friends and their families. All of these people have been role models and/or mentors forever. They were my village, my community, long before I knew what community meant.
Growing up, I went to two churches: a Nazarene church that is walking distance from my childhood home and an Anglican church that is a bit further away. The latter is where I had most of my church experiences from age 9 until my late 20s. I remember both churches very fondly and know that my years in church helped to mould me in ways from which I continue to benefit and rely on as I navigate life.
Church, St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church to be precise, by way of Sunday mass, Sunday school, youth group, the Anglican Young People’s Association (AYPA) and more, was central to a particular community of friends/role models/mentors. These people were so integrated in the fabric of my community that their impacts could (and did) easily go unacknowledged. The deeper aspects of these relationships are the parts we seldom notice or take stock of as we are experiencing them. As a child, teenager, and adult in my early 20s, I was certainly happy to be around all of these people, but the understanding of what they represented and the weighty roles they played in those years, would take a lot more introspection. With age comes wisdom, or something along those lines. Hopefully we all have the benefit of similar relationships and the opportunity to recognize them, reflect on them, appreciate them, and give voice to them as I’m doing today.
When you’re young, age is distorted. A 2-3 year age difference seems big, a 5-10 year gap is huge, and a 20-30 year one is a gulf. I think that’s the age continuum (yes I like that concept, therefore I use it regularly; black-shades of grey-white, all of that) for those in my church community who most influenced me. At St. Bart’s I had friends in my age group, some 2-3 years older, and others a bit older. I also had my aunt’s and cousin’s friends, my honorary aunts and uncles. In addition to Sunday school, youth group, and AYPA, I had the altar servers group, though I was never a server, but my sister and cousin were. Hmmm, I basically followed those two (or led them … perspective) everywhere. I think Harry and Ras have friends from school who still don’t know that I didn’t go to their secondary school, because I was always at their fetes and reunions. But I digress.
In my church community I saw disagreements between adults that didn’t involve curse words or brawls. I had meaningful conversations with adults who didn’t make me feel like I was too young to have worthwhile thoughts. From my godfather who was also one of my Sunday school teachers, I learned tricks to remember passages and numbers. By example and conversation, he also taught me (though to this day I still don’t always follow) about eating healthy, not over eating, not wasting food. I called him by his first name, which was unusual, but it was never done disrespectfully, it was just something I did. He recognized and acknowledged that. He is one of the people I respected most. My godmother, who I’ve talked about in another post, was a role model at church and at school. I lucked out on godparents. I’m also sure that my mother chose them because of their roles in church, school, and our community.
My older friends and role models not only reinforced what I learned at home, but modeled it. I saw my friends go from secondary school, to community college, and university. Some worked part-time or full-time jobs while studying; others, full-time jobs after graduating. I saw them become “successful” at home and abroad, by societal standards and by their own. Some of these friends are public servants, others engage in voluntary public service and have done so for decades. Some have stayed involved in the church; others like me have not, but continue to live by tenets of doing good, treating people with respect, being kind, and so on.
I saw how my aunt Jenny and cousin Cheryl interacted with their friends from church. How those friends were like a part of our family and called my grandmother ‘mum’ or ‘Dor’. These people are still their friends today, despite the thousands of physical miles that separate them. I still think of them my aunts and uncles.
I’ve discussed the value of church and the community we had there with my cousin B, who is also not religious, but like me, believes that our church changed our lives for the better. I’ve also had similar conversations with another friend during our catch ups when I’m home. Though St. Bart’s is in a very distinctive location, and the physical structure holds meaning for me (ask me about finding peace in its graveyard) it’s not hard for me to separate the church I grew up in from the structure that housed it. The church was the people with whom I built ships: friendships, mentorships, relationships (that biblical/sea/fishing analogy is happenstance not intention). Yes they participated in the rituals, taught me the gospels and the new testament, witnessed my confirmation, and so on, but they also taught me a lot more (patience, calm, the need to seek peace …).
I haven’t even gotten to the social side of church. We had a lot of fun. Perhaps yet another reason why I have remained connected to various friends from that time in my life. Also, as we’ve gotten less young, 2-3 years is no longer a big difference, 5-10 years not huge, and 20-30, while still significant, is less gulf-like, and more like a small gully. So reconnecting and maintaining friendships have fewer restrictions now.
I know that as a child and teenager, I was not privy to much of adult life; that was as it should be. Even as an adult there is a lot that goes on in relationships between others that is known only by those in the relationship. Again, that is as it should be. So I know that my friends, role models and mentors were not saints, or even saint-like (and I certainly may be closer to the other end of that continuum). We’re all fallible and have our foibles, but none of us need to be saints to be decent human beings. I’m just grateful that I had many relationships outside of my family, with a group of people that I can still look to and appreciate. How many of us can say that?
This post is a shout to my people from the St. Bart’s community (some still with us, some who have left us), who are my friends, role models, mentors, or some combination thereof. Thank you! I appreciate you. I am blessed that you are or were a part of my life.
Thora, Elridge, Richard, Roy, Andi, Merlene, Harriette, Raphael, Mr. Best, Collis, Rosina, Corliss, Horace (II), Selvin, Virgie, Jean, Kelvin, Paul, Dale, Madge, Euclid, Jenny S.
If your name is not on that list, though you’re on the 2-30 year continuum and a part of my St. Bart’s community, know that it’s not an exhaustive list. My excuse is that I wrote this post while I was cooking – something I’m still not fond of and do infrequently, because it requires too much attention that I could be paying to something else. That is my excuse, give me some grace 😇.
I periodically think of the relationships I’ve had and continue to have with members of the St. Bart’s community. I reflect on how I looked at these individuals when I was younger and saw, even then, how I could behave, connect, achieve, and overcome adversity and humble beginnings to become someone better. Through them, I saw the type of person I could aspire to become. Did they impact me, my life? They still do.