I am reading an excellent book, A Midwife’s Story, about a midwife (Penny Armstrong) who takes on a job delivering the babies of the Amish. She knows that many English view the Amish as an old-fashioned society, but as she gets to know the ways and cultures of this community she makes observations about her own – which gradually seems less sophisticated after all.
In the following excerpt, Penny is considering why she (a “worldly, independent and self- sufﬁcient modern woman”) did not feel ready to marry her partner Richie and “take her place in the modern world”, yet a 16-year old “child-mother” she was attending did.
“Where I came from, the idea of belonging, of carrying and being carried by others, had been sacriﬁced or lost. No, it was worse than lost, it was considered bad. To trust others, to follow an instruction, to ask for help with the burden of one’s life, was to show oneself a fool. It showed you didn’t know your way around.
Each of us pretended that we could manage life’s events – births, deaths, sickness and transcendent joy – on the strength of our personalities…
Richie and I, if we married, would have to be married by ourselves, alone; if we faltered, we would have only our own peculiar strengths to guide us; and if, between the two of us, they didn’t happen to be the right strengths or if they didn’t happen to be enough and if we gave ourselves up to others in a moment of trial… Others would bear no responsibility for us.”
The 16 year old “child-mother”, meanwhile, knew that she belonged to her community, that she and her husband didn’t have to survive independently.
The passage really struck home with me. I have observed in myself the same lacking that Penny sees in herself. It is a need for belonging, and for interdependence with others. For many of us in my own community, that need is married with an intense resistance, a resistance which I believe is non-instinctive but which is taught to us from an early age. It makes such sense to me that we can gain stronger communities and more fulﬁlling relationships by allowing ourselves to depend upon one another. But I still catch myself saying, “No, no, I can do it!” more often than I say, “Thank you, yes, I need your help with this”.
But the beautiful thing is this: interdependence can be the light which comes out of our darkest moments. When we are really struggling we have no choice but to ask for help, or to accept it, or even just succumb to it if we are to survive. Of course, it could be that this creates dependence. But if we allow sufﬁcient time to pass, and if we attend to our relationships with intention and care, we can discover opportunities to make our relationship reciprocal and to build interdependence. The ﬁrst glimmer of light appears when one of us truly needs the other and we are not too proud to say so.
I regularly coach myself on this asking or accepting help. I am still not brilliant at it, but my newborn baby son certainly taught me how to do it better! I can see how I could work harder at making each of my relationships more reciprocal; in some I need to give more, in others I need to accept more support. What I would love to do is to ﬁnd new ways to bring that sense of “belonging, of carrying and being carried by others” to my wider community, beyond my immediate friendships. I feel I learned something from the Amish community that Penny worked with. I would love to hear your stories about where you have experienced this work well.