When I moved to Nashville, my biggest fear was how to build friendships. I had lived in the same place for a little over 30 years and enjoyed the comfort of lifelong friendships that felt like a second skin. The one person I knew in Nashville was moving within a month of my arrival, but before she left, she took me and my children to a popular park in the area. Little did I know, this park would be the genesis of the friendships that would be the foundation for my new life in Tennessee.
Having lived in Nashville for almost five years now, I have realized this particular park has made more successful matches for moms than most online dating websites have for couples. Friendly women would initiate conversation with me and upon discovering I was new in town, hand me their email and phone number. Just like that. I cautiously reached out to them and in return they recommended pediatricians, preschools, library story times, restaurants and babysitters. They invited me to dinner, birthday parties and play dates. Through them I met other mothers and was introduced to the experiences my new city had to offer. These women, who were once strangers assisting their toddler down the same slide as mine, were welcoming me into their lives and becoming my friends.
In hindsight it feels like it happened instantly; these women becoming fast friends. But upon closer examination, the relationships had plenty of time to marinate. Days spent having picnics at parks. Afternoons of lingering in living rooms as our children played and napped on the floor. Day trips exploring what the city had to offer small ones. Rare nights out – sans children – where we could converse on and on without interruptions to refill sippy cups. Gathering our families in backyards to share dinner and bonfires. Through all these hours and days and dinners, we shared our stories and we confessed our struggles. We listened, gave advise and offered support. Sometimes we cried. Always we hugged.
As the years have passed, the preschoolers who held our hands as we explored the downtown splash park now spend their days exploring their classrooms and learning long division. The afternoons of lingering and playing have turned into basketball practice and guitar lessons. And the time we had together as friends has dwindled. We have settled into new rhythms and grown close to other friends outside our group. Our lives have taken on shapes that look different from the circle we used to sit in while toddlers nibbled apple slices in our laps.
The years have put some space between a few of us. Some have gone back to work, some have moved away, some are busy homeschooling. But a special sentiment forms between people who share those years – the years when your children are so young and you are growing into parenthood. It was along side these women that I learned how to be a mother. They were my village and our village was fueled by grace.
These women were beautiful examples of graciousness, which was a by-product of their generosity. There must first be a willingness to let go of pretenses, schedules, pride and insecurities to allow yourself to be gracious. You must be generous with your time and resources when extending yourself to others. A close second to generosity is action. Graciousness is not saying, “let me know if you need anything,” or asking, “what can I do to help?” Graciousness is action. It is dropping a meal on the doorstep of a friend who has had a rough week. It is offering to bring your friend’s son home from school so she can make it to her doctor appointment. Being gracious is extending a laugh and a hug when your neighbor’s potty training experience has exited the bathroom and manifested into the rest of the house. Being gracious is showing up, period. Having an active presentness in the lives of the people who matter -the people who will also show up for you.
From the first phone number I received at the park to friends bringing me soup when my family was sick with the flu – the acts of graciousness I have been granted are countless. Graciousness does not look perfect. It does not mean a spotless house or the perfectly prepared meal. It just means opening yourself up enough to let the love flow and then keeping the flow circulating by putting more gracious acts into the world.
See that mom pushing her baby on the swing or chasing her toddler around the sand pit? She may be new in town. She may be lonely. She may be desperately shy. She may be struggling in ways you cannot imagine – or in ways you can, and have lived through. Be gracious with her. Flash her a smile, say hello. Give her your email address and invite her to coffee. Your act of graciousness just might change her world.