They say it takes a village to raise a child.
Despite my size I was once a child, and I was raised. Everyone is raised, really, whether it's for good or for bad. I was fortunate enough to be raised in a good way, by good people, by a good village.
This village always made me feel like I was a friend, like I was special, and most importantly, that I was part of the village myself.
The village gathered together once a week, and some of us even gathered again on another day of the week. Both events would be down to earth, like a big family. There'd usually be some food to enjoy together, some sing-a-long time, and the village leader would give us some advice and read from The Village History and Guidelines. Our meetings would start late and end late, and since it would take a driving hunger to pull people away from each other we would just go eat lunch together.
Many villagers were smokers, but since my parents were smokers that never bothered me. It just reminded me they were all normal people.
The real test of their genuineness was when I was going through hard times. Especially as a teenager I needed people to tell me I was not abnormal. They told me the real thing I wanted to hear--I was special, precious, and fun to be around. People were happy when I was there. Especially as a teenager I needed people to lead me through the paths of growing up. I needed men to lead me through the paths of growing into a man.
I didn't need someone to take my hand and lead me through every decision (though I wouldn't have minded that at the time); I simply needed to see men acting like men, in normal situations. What is it like to be a man in this village? What do you do? What do you say? When do you argue? When do you leave things be? Is it okay to yell at my mom? Is it okay to laugh at people when they're not there? Is it cool to cheat, to steal, to lie as long as no one finds out? What am I supposed to do with myself, with my emotions, with the frustration I was depositing in the bank everyday, not knowing that one day it will inevitably bust itself out? Can I hit people, or do I just keep the hate inside? WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS FLESH AND TISSUE THAT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE I'M FROM OUTER-SPACE??
Extreme, perhaps, but these are things you learn; either the right answer or the wrong one, by habit it will become the norm.
In my village men were active, not lazy. They were gentle and kind, not lordly and fake macho-men. They listened, offered input, and most importantly they acted as men in front of me; and I noticed everything.
Just so we're clear the village is the church I grew up in... my church: New Hope Christian Fellowship. The men were mostly Chris, Aaron, Jimmy, James, Mark, and Ken.
The village raised me with the love and kindness that I didn't always find at home. But then, that's kind of the point of the village, right? They acted as a community in godly ways and set examples for me. They shared what they had with me--their lives and their true selves. I'm eternally grateful.