Do You Have a Tribe?

Do you have a tribe?

Back in October of last year, I got a group email that read:

You know the one time of year that I am remotely sappy, is Zoe’s birthday. I decided to write her a letter this year. I wanted to share it with you. Because you, as you will read in this letter, are my people. My tribe. My circle of life.

I could not do this without you. For that, and so much more, I am thankful.

It was sent to me by my friend Rebecca, to me and a score or more of women, along with a link to post on her blog, Uncommom (Uncommon Mom). I’ve met a few of the other women in person, and I’ve perhaps corresponded with one or two more of them a bit over the years for various reasons, but most of them I couldn’t pick out of a line up. What we all have in common? Rebecca. An extraordinary woman who – perhaps presciently, but probably just by nature – had assembled for herself this tribe, hand-picked in the years before and after she became a mother.

Women she leaned on and learned from either daily, or now and then; either in person, or virtually.

Women who got a lot more out of the deal than any one of us ever gave, I can say with certainty.

Women who have been, for the past week, corresponding with and leaning on each other, since we all learned of Rebecca’s sudden and sad death last Sunday.

I’d forgotten, until I heard – saw, actually, on Facebook – that Rebecca had died that I was part of that tribe, that I’d gotten that email and the link to her letter to Zoe on the occasion of her 10th birthday.

I forgot that I have people. Not just these people, but People.

I forget that often, in fact, and if Rebecca’s untimely and terribly sad death does anything for me (aside from cut my heart into tiny pieces as I think of Zoe, motherless), it will remind me that if I need people, I can reach out a hand, real or metaphorical, and people (or People) will be there.

This is small news for some people. This has been a major life’s work and effort for me.

(Tiny side story: last winter, one of our cars up and died and we could not afford a new one. We were able to borrow one of my parents’ cars for the winter while they were in Florida, but for the couple of days until we could pick it up, I was trapped at home in a cold February. When I got the car and could go out again, and was telling a friend at my gym about how I missed our usual class the Friday before, she said – so casually – “you should have texted me. I’d have come and picked you up.” Because of course she would have, without a second thought. It’s me who needs the second thought to send the text. Make the call. Ask. Just ask. My people are there. My People.)

Rebecca wasn’t near enough to give me a lift to the gym – I’m in New York and she was in Miami. I saw her twice in the last about 12 years. Twice! But I knew her when she first got married, and I was with her on a trip (she was in travel public relations, I was a bridal magazine editor) to someplace tropical and she told me, somewhat startled, that she had just gotten an insulin pump, which would help her better manage the Type 1 diabetes she’d had since she was a tiny little girl, and that her doctor said she could, if she wanted, get pregnant now.

Her baby, her Zoe, was born a bit early (tiny but perfect) and within a week or so of when I had my second son. (We hit on the idea of betrothing them, to save our children the fuss and pain of dating, on the surface, but really so we could be fabulous mothers-in-law-in-crime someday, with feather boas and sparkly tiaras.)

She was the kind of person who could, and did, wear things like tiaras without spectacle or irony. They fit her. Or better, she fit them. She sparkled, as her boyfriend of the last five years — the big, kind, Canadian who moved into her orbit, hers and Zoe’s and is now moored there — wrote in a beautiful tribute to her the other day.

She was looking for a tribe because she knew how hard it would be to raise her daughter (it’s always hard). Because she knew, having carried the burden of her disease for decades, that her life was perhaps less open-ended than most of the rest of us are able to fool ourselves into believing. She gathered her People. She prepared herself. She lived like no one I’ve ever known. She collected experiences like shells on a beach, collected people like beads on a string, curating every one, knowing them, linking them, and loving them all in a way that was singular and completely unselfish.

The day she died, I corresponded by email with another friend, another editor who had traveled with Rebecca to those tropical locales back in our pre-child days. She said this of our first meeting with and lasting connection to Rebecca:

I knew we were lucky, I just should have reveled in the happiness of it more. And now we share this—an unusual bond to Rebecca, who strangely may touch me with her death more than in life. She probably would have laughed at that and said something smart like, “Oh, great, sugar booger, so now you choose to show up!”

She sure would have. Because she showed up, always, to everything.

She gathered her tribe to help her navigate the confounding path that is motherhood. But it’s us — and certainly, it’s me — who have been lifted up by being a part of it. We’ve been emailing in a long chain all week, sharing stories and reminding one another of how we’re connected. A little bit of glitter for each of us.

How’s that, sugar booger?

Rebecca and me at a media lunch last February.

Rebecca and me at a media lunch last February.