According to dictionary.com, the word “tribe” has 11 possible definitions. A tribe is loosely defined as a group of people with common traits, interests, or experiences. The word originated in 1200, although I’m sure that tribes have been around since the beginning of time.
Today, we don’t necessarily think of ourselves as one tribe that has more similarities than differences. We’re institutionally and socially classified into so many categories, it’s hard sometimes to identify a trace of shared understanding.
I’d like to change that.
We each have a personal tribe of family, loved ones, friends, and colleagues. These are the people who respect us for who we are. They’re with us in times of celebration and failure. They inspire us to do a little more and be a better version of ourselves. They’re the ones who lead by example and do the right things, even when it’s hard or unpopular. The ones who remind us that saying “please,” “thank you,” “I was wrong,” “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you” are not signs of weakness, but strength of character. Whether large or small, this is the tribe we rely on the most.
We also have a much wider circle made up of people who show up unannounced just because we need them. We may never know all of their names, but they exist, and they want to help. We just have to let them. Members of this tribe touch our lives in positive ways that feel like gifts because they’re unexpected.
New York Times best-selling author, Lissa Rankin, MD, talks about the health benefits of finding your tribe. She references overwhelming scientific evidence that when human beings are connected, they nourish each other, and the health of the body reflects this.
I completely agree. I’d also add that we don’t necessarily have to know each other well, or at all, to benefit from being connected. And, the length of time doesn’t matter. Momentary or long-term – it’s making the connection that counts.
My most profound tribal experience came unexpectedly. My husband and I were on vacation outside the United States in a remote tropical island paradise. We were having a marvelous time snorkeling, hiking, and relaxing. A few days before we were scheduled to head home, I experienced one of every traveler’s biggest fears – I got sick.
I got so sick, in fact, that I had to go to a clinic – where the first thing I saw in the procedure room was a lizard on one of the chairs. I was too sick for the clinic to handle. They referred me to the hospital, located one hour away on a treacherous, winding mountain road. When I got there, I could barely stand up to walk through the ER doors. I was diagnosed with appendicitis and became bed #3 in the 26-bed women’s ward, where there was no air conditioning.
I was prepped for emergency surgery, wheeled outside to the operating room which was located in another building. And then, my world went blank until I woke up the next day back in the ward when I was told I’d almost died. You see, my appendix had ruptured, and I was septic. I had a long recovery ahead of me.
My husband and I were all alone. Our family was back in the United States. The ward was noisy and chaotic. I was in constant pain whether I laid still or tried to move. I had a severe allergic reaction to one of the many antibiotics I was on. And, when I finally got home over a week later, I needed a few months to regain my strength and reconnect my body, mind, and spirit. My story goes on and on.
The people I knew – family, friends, colleagues – offered support immediately and throughout my extended recovery. What surprised me the most was the number of strangers who heard about my story from someone else and gave their unconditional support: my medical team and the hoteliers, guests, and merchants on the island; the travel team who helped us get back to the United States; the prayer warriors who added me to their chains; the list is endless. My health was restored, in part, because of them.
The ability to touch someone’s life in a positive way is a gift.
Being on the receiving end of such a gift is like being wrapped up in a cozy, warm blanket on a cold day. The first truth I know for sure is that I have a tribe of people I know and friends I have yet to meet who are ready, willing, and able to show up for me when I can’t show up for myself. The second truth is that my story isn’t unique. We each have a tribe. We’ve all had our lives touched by someone else in an unexpected and positive way.
I believe that we’re all one well-connected tribe. Imagine a world in which we all appreciate and celebrate that it’s our connections with people – not our differences – that matter the most, even when we’re faced with losing pretty much everything.
Who’s in your tribe? Whose tribe are you supporting, even if they don’t know it?