I have this affection for penguins because they remind me of our basic need for community to survive. I was watching a show about penguins and learned they have a communal system to survive the harsh freezing weather. They huddle together and the penguins on the outside stay on the outside to block the wind while the rest are huddled to capture body heat. After a certain time the outside penguins rotate inward and new ones take their place on the outside. They continue this rotation through all the difficult weather. As individuals, they would never be able to withstand the storm; however as a community they survive by sticking together, literally holding each other up. They are able to survive and thrive until better weather arrives. For the past five years my friends have done this for me on a personal level. They spent the night with me when I was too scared to sleep alone in the house. They came to get me from the house when I didn’t want to leave. They brought me food when I wouldn’t eat. They prayed for me when I couldn’t and didn’t want to pray for myself. It is natural to want to isolate ourselves during painful times, but it is likely we wouldn’t thrive or arguably survive long if we were to do that. I literally think I would have just died if my friends had not sheltered me and carried me through so many of the storms.
If the ‘incident’ had happened (that is how I refer to the kidnapping/sexual assault/attempted murder) at a different point in my life, I would not have had the friends or support to help me survive. I did not want to ask for help because I viewed it as weakness and I thought I was strong enough to manage on my own. Only when I felt like I was drowning did I become vulnerable enough to admit I was not surviving. We all have trials during our life and much like the penguins in bitter cold, we were not made to endure them alone. We were made for created for community and although I was single and lived alone, I had an attentive, loving, nurturing community of friends.
My family was amazing too. My Mom and Dad called me every day. My brother and sister checked in with me and prayed for me. They sent encouraging emails and stood ready, at a moment’s notice, or with my permission, to fight the battle for me and stand in my shoes. What a priceless blessing to be surrounded by those that not only love you but who are willing to sacrifice for you and would gladly take the pain in your place. I grew up in a family where I knew I was safe. If I got hurt it would be a race to see who got to the perpetrator first. My sweet mom who stands less than five feet included. I did not expect the similar fierce devotion from my friends, but would not be here without it. When I say that I would not have survived I do not mean I would have done anything to harm myself – I am far too vain for that. What I mean is that my body would have shut down from the grief and fear I was drowning in daily.
Never underestimate the power of a phone call, a visit, or simply sitting quietly with someone who is recovering from an overwhelming experience. You may feel like what you are doing is small, but I promise to the person in need it is an enormous gesture. For example, imagine you are drowning, unable to breathe or tread water, and someone comes along, even a stranger, and puts out their hand…it is nothing to them, it is a simple quick act that takes very little time. Yet to the person on the other end, it is the difference between life and death.