No place is perfect but some places are perfect for a particular part of your journey. Without knowing it, the culture, the families, and the people in a certain place can mold you into a better individual in preparation for the mysterious unknowns of your life. I see myself in the stories of characters journeying to destinations as they learn lessons about themselves and grow along the way even when they aren't quite sure where their journey will end.
I read an article that circulated widely among the mommy blogosphere about village life. The main point of it being that moms need villages. I would, and have argued, that we all need a village- The married, single, religious, young, old, whoever. No, not the metaphorical one we speak of when we say "it takes a village" but an actual village. Hastings is a village. It may not always feel like it when you're living in it with no comparison, but believe me it is.
Villages take care of each other, not perfectly, but constantly. In Hastings I had families and friends constantly caring for me and each other. I watched as families went through all sorts of tragedies, blessings, embarrassing moments, and victories. That's no surprise, anywhere that humans live you will see that, but what amazed me was the response to that humanity. An old lady from the community would be with a young mom every step of her confusing suffering. No questions asked. Another family would drop everything to step in to take care of another family's cares so they could grieve. People would go through very rough stages and seasons of life while others would patiently stand by them and guide them through something they too had experienced.
Literally, while living here it was like constantly witnessing a whole group of people living out their vocations in every moment. No isolation. No ability to hide. No need to feel useless or unneeded. Here everyone has a role in every situation.
I got to witness masculinity lived out to its core. Not in a stupid, buff, stereotypical way, but in a humble, honest, deeply loving, and protective way. I gained so many fathers and brothers from my time here. I watched my students, as young men, have chances to serve in very fulfilling ways after their own examples of older men. I saw femininity embraced. Not in a striving, "we will get there some day" way but in a true already attained way. I saw women respected for their intelligence, their professionalism, their amazing voice in the community. I watched as they nurtured one another and each other's kids. Ask any child here and they can point out non-related adults that love them as dearly and as truly as their own family.
I received so many words of wisdom. Actual, literal words of wisdom that I watched unapologetically applied in messy situations and now get to walk into my next stage of my life remembering.
In Hastings I gained mercy. Living in a smaller place, after being used to bigger ones, you learn that grudges are real and wounds need time to heal. When I first arrived here I received a special grace of mercy. Watching people remain hurt from years of injury I understood this was a grace, not a special talent or something I could claim I earned, but simply a grace. But, I also witnessed people's humility when they knew they needed graces of their own. Their vulnerability with each other that I've never seen from adults inspired me. It opened hardened parts of my prideful heart so that I could also be vulnerable, ask for help, grow, and change.
Most of the time I've been here I have been loved like no other time in my life. I have had, for four years, someone to listen, advise, care for, and love me. Not just one person but many. I have been told by so many people how special and influential I am to their children, but now is my chance to tell you, Hastings, how special and influential you have been to me. I came here for a grad school program, not knowing what was next, but trusting God that this is where I would find out. I had no idea that He was giving me literal fulfillments of my wildest dreams and lessons that I will use the rest of my life. I am confident I am a better sister, daughter, aunt, godmother, teacher, and friend because of my time in this village. I know I will be a better wife, mother, grandmother, maybe some day widow or some other unplanned or undesired role simply because I have lived here.
You don't find places as full of generous people like this very often, but when you do they stand out forever. You don't often see fairytale versions of life lived out, real fairytales, the kind with struggle, suffering, and conflict, but also with victory, friendship, morals, and the most amazing characters you've ever dreamed up. But I found that in Hastings.
That life I found is our call to family whether single or married, this is the call of the Church that I hope to always imitate and foster no matter where I am. This is my call for the future: To make everywhere my village and to love others as I was loved here.
To all my readers, at some point in your life I wish you a Hastings Home. To all my Hastings people, I am eternally thankful for you and everything you gave me.