Deepening Connections

If I were to create a visual or a quilt to capture my life’s journey, what would be the underlying thread that carried me through the journey?

Was it my “inner tribe” – that sense of identity, safety and belonging – which gave me the strength and courage, as a single parent, to raise and educate three children to be independent and well-rounded adults?

That gave me the impetus to launch and run a successful conference and event company?

That enabled me to overcome an auto-immune disease and to create in my sixties? That enabled me to happily celebrate my 70th birthday last November feeling fit, strong and healthy and ready to spring into the next stage of my life?

Your tribe is your cultural support system, the people in your life who are, or were, important to you or who influenced you at a particular time. They are your family and friends, people you moved away from or kept throughout your life.
For me, it was my ‘tribe’ of Mom, Dad and four siblings and a very large extended ‘tribe’ on both sides of the family. My early memories are all centered around family gatherings.

I was deeply influenced by the stories I heard from my grandmothers at a very impressionable age, like “always remember you come from the Vikings” and “the Damerells were smugglers off the coast of Cornwall“. I loved the intrigue, the daring, the excitement of those stories. I loved visits to our family in Port Elizabeth and the joy in my great-grandmother’s eyes as she beamed at us so proudly and lovingly from the head of her dining table.

Cape Town was home, with the surf at Muizenberg Beach in summer and climbing Table Mountain in the winter. Always there was a lot of emphasis on the physical, and always lots of friends.

When I think back on my life, I haven’t really been a “tribey” person. I am better at one-on-one interactions. I have always preferred to linger on the fringes and keep private. But that sense of “belonging” gave me the strength to meet my challenges through life and has helped me survive and emerge stronger from Covid-19 lockdowns.

The decisions we make and the risks we take are emotional. If you have love and support, you can take risks, as I did. I never wanted to have any regrets about the things I didn’t do.
Covid-19 has given us new insight into those tribal bonds that we depended on and took for granted. Now we’ve got remote working and social isolation. We have to make decisions about whom to see, when and how.

Introverts may be happily working at home and interacting with their colleagues on Zoom. Still, most young people need the social groups they form with work ‘tribes’ through chats around the water cooler and Friday night drinks, braais with one another’s families, hikes together and weekends away.
Soccer Moms are no longer meeting and chatting in the carpark as they watch their offspring play sport on a Saturday morning. And families, spread across the world, can no longer spend Christmas holidays and celebrations together.

Some people have maintained tribal groups throughout their lives. Even in their eighties, they have preserved those close friendships with old Varsity mates. But maybe others have narrowed their social interaction down to people with whom they share a common interest. Perhaps those fewer relationships have developed into deeper connections.
When I celebrated my 70th birthday, we were halfway through lockdown in South Africa. My hair colour had grown out. I looked in the mirror and liked the authentic person who looked back at me. I realised that I appreciated what life had given me and what I had now: comfort, peace and security.

I found I had maintained friendships, but with a smaller group, because only limited interaction was possible. We grew closer, and we became more vulnerable with each other. I have spent much of my life thinking about my next actions and outcomes. Now I’m no longer worried about my next deed or my next purchase. It is friendships that I find fulfilling.

My relationship with my children and my sister overseas has deepened. Previously, I was always planning the next time we could spend time together. When we enjoyed holidays together, we focused on “doing” – going to another place, a new event. Through lockdowns, we have conversed and connected remotely, but on a deeper level than before.
I’ve learnt your “tribe” needs to be valued, nurtured and cherished. I’ve learnt to stop wishing for the next purchase, the next trip, the next event. Be in the moment. These lockdowns have given us all time to think more about what is really important to us, and become richer in spirit.


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