Our wonderful guest blogger, Jana, is back again this month – sharing experiences of life and generosity in a small town.
Living in a small town has taught me a lot.
Like the art of small talk. I spent most of my teens living in the central city and my early 20s in Europe. I spent a lot of time with headphones on, head down, avoiding eye contact with strangers. I certainly never engaged in small talk.
I have lived here for three years and am only just beginning to get my head around it’s detached intimacy. Learning all sorts of life snippets from virtual strangers, in the street, the post office or the local Four Square How lambing is going this year, the latest drama they are having with their teen, what they are going to cook for dinner tonight. A vivid snapshot of another in a brief window of time. It’s a familiarity that I am slowly beginning to get used to, although I found it quite uncomfortable for at least the first year. It still feels strange, but I am slowly starting to find it oddly comforting. When I am away I kind of miss it. Little by little, my guarded introvert soul is beginning to respond to the generosity of interaction in small town New Zealand.
Living rurally has really made me really notice and appreciate the generosity that is shown daily towards my family. The way that people go out of their way to help us out. My initial fears that we were too much of an unconventional unit to ever really fit in, were unfounded.
There is that old saying, it takes a village to raise a child. I get that now. I have found there to be a real spirit of practical generosity among my peers. Other parents who cheerfully step in to help with my kids when I need to be in two places at once, as well as an older generation with a huge generosity of time and heart. As a single parent with no family living close by, this has meant such a lot.
There are some amazing characters who run the local op shop. They always greet my youngest by name and keep the most interesting egg cups that come in aside for him. They know better than to usher him towards the toy section. An avid collector of egg cups, he will quite happily sit with them and talk at length about the merits of one style over another. These women completely indulge him, and he basks in their affection and undivided attention. They have never treated him as an inconvenience or found it at all strange that a four year old little boy has so much to say about egg cups. Their interaction with him is genuine and I love them so much for it. His grandparents live two hours away, and I feel like the generosity shown by these retired legends gives him an interim grandma fix and fills his eccentric wee heart.
Another unlikely place where I have found a huge amount of generosity is at my local gym.
After a lifetime of avoiding exercise, I signed up in the one day on an uncharacteristic self-improvement whim. Before I had even attempted my first session I was regretting it. I imagined aloof, selfie taking gym bunnies in designer activewear and buff trainers grunting and shouting at people.
But when I finally managed to convince myself to slink through those doors, all of the other members stopped what they were doing to cheerfully greet me. I was quite taken aback.
And they do it every time, to everyone who comes in. It just seems to be the culture of the place. I have come to expect it now and it always makes me smile.
And they help. Even though I am a complete novice who has no idea what they are doing. Even though my active wear resembles something a teenage boy would wear in the mid 90’s. Even though when people ask me what my fitness goals are, all I can give them is a blank look. And even though I still can’t master a squat, other members have been kind and generous and patient with me. More than willing to share their knowledge and expertise.
It is nothing like I expected and I never thought I would say it, but I am actually beginning to enjoy it.
There is a produce stand, centrally located in town. A community pantry, handmade by a local craftsman and maintained and kept stocked by locals. Take what you want, leave something if you can. It is often overflowing, mostly with seasonal produce, herbs, flowers and eggs.
Carefully and beautifully displayed, the stand is work of art and of community generosity and care.
I’m sure this kind of generosity is not just a small town thing. I think it’s everywhere, but it was perhaps not quite so obvious to me in the anonymity of the city. Or maybe it’s that I had to be right out of my comfort zone before I could start to see it.
Because it’s not just the grand gestures of generosity that are important. For me, it has been the little interactions that have been the most meaningful. The little acts of generosity that have gone such a long way in making me feel like I was home.
Or maybe It’s just that after 35 years, I finally took off my headphones and learned to talk to strangers.