Community Living

Reflections from Ellie Cooke about her time in India

It was 4:31am on the morning before my birthday party when I woke up. I had woken at this time often since coming home from India, feeling a sense of loss. I was more sensitive around my birthday, I had planned it all thinking I would be in India, so finding myself in England didn’t feel quite right.

In the community I was living in I was looking forward to having cake with all the ladies and smearing icing on their cheeks, noses and foreheads, as they would undoubtedly do on mine (it’s a custom that shows love). Then having a dinner party with friends – knowing it would be relaxed and I wouldn’t need to worry about how much food there was, was everyone enjoying themselves and was there enough space as it would all be taken care of by everyone present. In India I would not have thought about who would make my cake, it would just happen. But at 4.31am that seemed to be the pressing issue on my mind.

Here, I asked a dear friend to make my cake, we have been friends since we were 17 years old and she had been in touch with me throughout my journey in India. I could not help but feel vulnerable, did she want to make it or was it out of some obligation? I have noticed a significant difference in the way people live together here since my return. I cannot help but struggle with how self-centred, how self-involved and greedy people seem. People feel obliged, they compare – what has that person done for me? My mind fills with questions: what happened to love your neighbour as yourself? What happened to following in Jesus’ footsteps, showing selfless love to everyone? I sometimes find myself feeling lonely, overwhelmed and perhaps my expectations of others have become too high over the past nine months.

“As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their “right” place.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

I was asked to help at a birthday party in India by a close friend that I had made, one of the ladies. I did not hesitate, I did not think about how busy I was or how many other things I had to do. I took half a day off work and helped hang decorations from her ceiling, stir huge pots of curry and make a birthday cake in the shape of a doll. I did not think about how long it would take, how much it would cost or how much I would sweat in front of an oven in 35+ degree heat. It was all an act of love, in that cake and through my hands came love. Love I will always have for that amazing family.

During this transition I have found it easy to feel lost, alone or even unloved at times, but I constantly remind myself that this is a different community, a different culture and my friends have helped me in so many different ways:

  • The five friends who each brought me a birthday cake without me asking.
  • A close girlfriend smearing the beautiful cake she made on my face as she knew what that meant to me.
  • Friends telling me how proud of me they are.
  • People wanting me to show them photos and coming over to hear all about them.
  • Family members calling each week to see how I am getting on and to hear another story.
  • My boyfriend visiting India twice to be part of my journey; and coming to take me home when I was very unwell.
  • Mum pulling me close just before she returned from her first India visit, wishing she could take me with her but understanding why I could not come and telling me that she was proud of me.
  • Close friends remembering my medical appointments and calling to see how they went.
  • The smiles and hugs I got when I returned to church with a warm welcome home from my Vicar said with such understanding.
  • My boyfriend holding my hand whilst I cried for poverty, missing my Indian community and my life there – despite it being hard to hear.
  • Friends I made in India who come from all around the world calling because they know how hard a transition it is.
  • Beautiful food cooked by my mum.
  • Coffees with a friend from India who is currently in the UK.
  • My boyfriend’s brother asking the questions I never thought anyone would.

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

It is all very different, but it is all love. I am looking for that same sense of community, really being together through God and doing life together here in England, I hope I will find it. Community is a huge part of life, a huge part of faith, something people should never lose sight of – how have you shown your love for someone recently?

 “Community is like a large mosaic. Each little piece seems so insignificant. One piece is bright red, another cold blue or dull green, another warm purple, another sharp yellow, another shining gold. Some look precious, others ordinary. Some look valuable, others worthless. Some look gaudy, others delicate. As individual stones, we can do little with them except compare them and judge their beauty and value. When, however, all these little stones are brought together in one big mosaic portraying the face of Christ, who would ever question the importance of any one of them? If one of them, even the least spectacular one, is missing, the face is incomplete. Together in the one mosaic, each little stone is indispensable and makes a unique contribution to the glory of God. That’s community, a fellowship of little people who together make God visible in the world.”

Henri Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup­­ (a great read!!)

Note: I am about to start running some classes for Choices (a charitable organisation) and a pilot freedom business in 2014 – if anyone has nice fabric they wish to donate please get in touch via [email protected]