As I was flipping through my Facebook feed this morning, two contrasting news stories caught my eye. One was about a Mahtomedi high school sports team who taunted Asian players on the opposing team. The other showed a group of teenage soccer players huddled around a fellow teammate so she could discreetly adjust her hijab.
We choose how or whether we belong to each other. This type of belonging comes from a sense of connection that spans apparent differences. It’s thinking about belonging at the micro-level — trusting how that can help us with the big, scary, or complicated stuff.
Imagine all that may have gone into the relationship between those soccer girls. We don’t have to idealize it or pretend it all went perfectly smoothly. But I think we can surmise all the little things that built one on top of the other to create that kind of awareness and connection.
I can remember far more times in my life where I’ve felt more like an outsider than someone who belonged. My own teenage years (as I’m sure quite a few of you can relate) were fraught with these experiences. I was in band, theater, speech club, national honor society, math club, 4H, French club. And I don’t remember feeling like I really belonged to any of them. At some point, I was made to feel like I was not good enough, not cool enough, too awkward, somehow just not right or really welcomed within each group.
I was a white kid in an almost entirely white community. I learned years later the experience of one of my brown-skinned classmates, who shared how our friendship was a life-saver for her. In high school, I was oblivious to the racism she endured. I didn’t understand my whiteness back then. Yet I’m also humbled by how all of those seemingly inconsequential acts of friendliness — smiles in hallways, eating lunch together, doing things with her and her family— all added up for both of us.
Belonging comes out of abundance. It’s being generous with words, spirit, and deeds from a place of kindness and gentle curiosity. It’s putting ourselves out there, even in unfamiliar territory. It’s noticing and de-centering ourselves, even for something as basic as pausing to say hello to a stranger.
May we all know how much we belong to each other.