Tribal Healing…and a Steak Dinner

by Nikki Mark

The day after my son passed away, I noticed a man in his early 30s sitting by himself among close friends and family in our home. I didn’t know him and figured he was an acquaintance of my husband’s, which he was. For much of that week, this man sat alone in our living room… watching…waiting…and making himself available for whatever anyone needed.

Soon after the funeral, if not the very next day, this man called my husband to ask if he and his new bride could take the two of us out for a steak dinner.

“He’s pretty insistent,” my husband said, “But I assume I should say no, right?”

I hadn’t eaten in a week and wasn’t sure I ever would again.

“Say “YES,” I corrected him, surprised at the words that spilled out of my mouth.

The woman I used to be was more introverted. She was proficient at saying NO. And she prided herself on being practical and rational, not to mention responsible. A steak dinner following my son’s funeral and days before his memorial would have been preposterous to that woman on every level.

But I had just endured the biggest and most inconceivable loss of my life, and suddenly I was someone new. I was someone who said YES. And I appreciated anyone and everyone who wanted to be a member of our community and considered us part of theirs.

So, the very next day, off to dinner, we went.

Mr. Steak Dinner Man and his pretty blonde wife picked us up and took us to a brightly lit trendy restaurant, where we were seated at a table usually reserved for those eager to be seen. For ninety minutes, these two love birds told us all about the day they met. They recounted intricate details of their wedding day. And they shared what seemed like hundreds of pictures of their honeymoon.

Saturated with grief, I couldn’t process any of it. All I remember is nibbling on a morsel of steak, taking frequent trips to the restroom to cry, and staring longingly at a dark booth in the corner where every cell in my body wanted to hide.

But hiding was exactly what Mr. Steak Dinner Man did not want me and my husband to do.

Why?

Because when tragedy strikes, human beings do not hide. We come together. We share our time and resources. And, like an ancient tribe fighting for survival, we make sacrifices for the greater good.

That’s simply how we are designed.

“Humans survive in groups, not in isolation,” says bestselling author and journalist Sebastian Junger in his powerful book TRIBE.

In fact, Junger explains, “Humans are so strongly wired to help one another and enjoy such enormous social benefits from doing so that people regularly risk their lives for complete strangers.”

Mr. Steak Dinner Man may not have risked his life for us, but he certainly went beyond the call of duty for virtual strangers and helped us take our very first steps back into the real world.

After he dropped us back home, I knew we’d never see him again. His mission was complete, and he had served us well.

But I also knew that something very important had happened to me that night, and it wasn’t until I read Junger’s book that I understood what that was.

That evening helped me understand that I not only have a community, but I belong to a tribe full of people willing to “help feed” and “help defend” me, my family, and each other.

It reminded me that everyone, including myself, has something meaningful to contribute to our world and that, unfortunately, it sometimes takes a tragedy for us to figure out what that is.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it taught me that when we serve others, we not only help them feel better, we feel better too. And by carrying this ancient practice forward, we can heal our hearts, little by little, from the inside out.

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