Lesson 4: A global network is a gift and an absence

For Kathy, for so many reasons.

When I got sick and started blogging about it, people from around the world reached out to me. Each morning I would wake to messages; many afternoons brought cards or flowers or little packages—a beanie, a soft bunny, a shawl. Because I had lived in the US and then moved to NZ, because I wrote books and had started the Growth Edge Network, I had a community of practice around the world. I would ask a question in my blog before bed and get answers from amazing oncologists (who were friends of friends) by the time I woke up. It felt amazing, like I was held gently by the world. I put up a map on my blog and watched the pinpricks of readers spread across the world. (Just to be clear, this is dozens and dozens of people, not hundreds and hundreds.) Friends got on airplanes and came and stayed with me, traveling 15 or 20 hours to get to my beach house on the edge of the world. Somehow that made the world feel small and helped me feel deeply loved (see how important this is in Lesson 3).

At the same time, my local network was small. I had left my job a few years before to finish Changing on the Job and start Cultivating Leadership. I was still a foreigner in the beautiful New Zealand village I had lived in for eight years. It was the sort of place friendly enough so that I knew most of the faces of the people who smiled as they passed by in the village dairy, but distant enough that I didn’t know their names.  There were beautifully important people, of course, deep friendships I had made and which I treasured. I had a small roster of dear friends who made my family meals during chemo. Melissa walked in the hills with me each day. Robyn came over and had tea with me every week. But this wasn’t dozens and dozens of people—this was twos and twos of people. (We don’t even have expressions for how small this is!)

This is one of the things I’m still ambivalent about in my life. I love that our global society has woven together, that I can communicate with and work with and be friends with people who live on the other side of the planet. And at the same time, I deeply missed the physical presence of close friends when I was unwell—and I miss being physically present for my close friends when they are unwell. When my friend Doug died, I saw pictures of hundreds of people coming together to mourn him; he was placed in his community, and it had been really important for him to create that place. I’m sad I couldn’t be there for him, couldn’t bring him soup and hold his hand, couldn’t grieve for him in the company of others who loved him deeply. And at the same time Doug himself was part of my global community of dear ones, and if I had relied only on the local community, I would never have been friends with that gorgeous man who lived on the other side of the world.

This is one of the myriad curse-blessings of the modern world—at least for those of us with the resources to make this choice. We are mobile in ways our ancestors could never have dreamed of, and we are unplaced in ways they couldn’t have fathomed.  We are faced with possibilities and consequences that previous generations simply didn’t have, and we don’t know yet how this plays out on a bigger scale. Does this make us more connected and global? Or does being a citizen of the world really turn you into a citizen of nowhere, as Teresa May suggested?

I know I’m not going to resolve this—even less as I create a life that spans New Zealand (where I write this looking out at the sea) and London. I will try to nurture small communities in both places, and the larger community that lives around the globe. I will feel grateful for days like yesterday, when I had time on zoom calls with people I love who are in other countries and seasons than me, and I will feel grateful for days like today, when I had a long, lingering lunch with friends at our dining room table.  We only get one life, and it is filled with the delights we have, and it is also filled with the absences of the lives we don’t live. I know that more now than I used to.

(picture today is the Wellington Gathering of the Growth Edge Network. I was so grateful when this virtual community gathered in person)

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