As a child, I heard the phrase "It takes a village" attached to several generic situations. "It takes a village to win a game," my coach might have said, referring to practicing at home with our parents or having fans in the crowd. "It takes a village to build a park," a local official would say, referring to the needed planners, council members, contractors and the public's support. Only later did I learn that the phrase was intended to refer to raising a child successfully; and only very recently did I learn just how accurate it could be.
When my son, Oliver, was diagnosed with cancer last February, my wife, Stacy, my mother and stepfather were gathered in a Raleigh hospital room. Stacy's mother had left earlier that day following a week's stay; when we delivered the news, she immediately turned around. My parents divorced when I was 3; several times during the last year, I found us all together, entertaining Oliver in the hospital. We'd put down the past to become villagers with a common goal. Our individual families have merged into one larger, stronger unit.
Of necessity, Stacy and I went full force into caring for Oliver—asking all of the necessary questions, listening to the essential training steps and being as attentive as possible to the nurses and doctors. Meanwhile, our families ran errands, grabbed dinner and filled any needed gaps. Soon, friends started showing up at our doorstep with food and encouragement. Phone calls, emails, cards, prayers, thoughts and gifts arrived from all corners of the country.
The giving continues: Some people donated massages to help us relax. My grad school professors extended my deadlines. Stacy's co-workers offered shared leave-time so she could stay home more. In October, a group of bike riders in the middle of the country dedicated a leg of their cross-country ride to Oliver. As he underwent surgery in New York City during December, our families flew up to provide structure. Stacy's co-workers decorated our house and set up a tree for the Christmas season to welcome us home.
Almost everyone we know has joined in on our fight for Oliver's health. Families near and far sent thoughts and donations. Our friends treated us to evenings of exhaling without discussing details of Oliver's medical care. Local artists created pieces of art based around rockets, a theme chosen by Oliver. Later this month, some of my favorite bands will play a massive benefit for Oliver in four Raleigh clubs. Last weekend, City Council Member Bonner Gaylord shaved his head in honor of Oliver, raising $10,000 for pediatric cancer research. The nurses and doctors at UNC-Chapel Hill have become friends, sharing their lives in a way that went above and beyond any job description. These artists, politicians, professionals and musicians are now part of Oliver's village.
At the heart of all this is the concept of simply caring for friends, or helping out someone when you can spare a hand, a dollar or a song. If this whole thing has taught me anything, it's that I need to spend the rest of my life acting in kind, helping villagers when they require it. If you need an egg or some milk, just come knock. We're home now.