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Posts Tagged ‘belonging’

back porch geraniums

Last week, I sat in my usual spot in the chapel of Memorial Church, squinting in the bright morning light, watching it play across the high cream-colored ceilings and the carved wooden pews. Morning Prayers is back in session for the fall term, and I am grateful to rest in it again as part of my daily rhythm.

David Hempton, the dean of Harvard Divinity School, spoke that morning on an achingly timely topic: “belonging at Harvard.” (This was two days after the president’s DACA announcement, about which Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, and others have spoken more eloquently than I can.)

Hempton noted that belonging means something more than networking or connecting or being able to say you visited a place. Many people come to Harvard for exactly those (legitimate) reasons. But for those of us who work and study here – who have made it, in some sense, our home – belonging means more than that. We want to know that this is our community; that we are accepted here, valued, safe. With that comes a deep responsibility to make this community a safe, thoughtful, welcoming place for others.

Belonging, Hempton added, “involves the acceptance of our own frailties and those of others in a spirit of generosity and mutual forbearance. There is no belonging without self-acceptance.”

Those words, in his gentle Irish accent, made tears well in my eyes, and they reminded me of another David, the poet David Whyte, in “The House of Belonging“:

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love. […]

There is no house
like the house of belonging.

It takes a long time for most of us to find our own houses of belonging: to accept ourselves and others without judgment and with generosity, to be brave enough to become who we really are. It’s not a linear process, and it is a slow one: it takes a long time to grow into ourselves. But even as we fail and falter, we are still responsible for the other side of community: we must be a place of welcome for others. We must ask how we can help them belong, and help them thrive.

I don’t have the answers for any of this, at Harvard or elsewhere: I don’t always know what it looks like, for me or for my communities. But as Hempton said (and as Rakesh Khurana, the dean of Harvard College, said at Morning Prayers the very next day), I know one thing: we must do this work, of building and welcome, together.

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i miss being known

I’ve written before about how life was easier in Abilene – it’s warmer, smaller, easier to navigate, cheaper to live there, etc. etc. etc. And we’d lived there for eight years, so we knew the terrain, literal and emotional. Some people really struggle in the West Texas desert, and the summers there are no joke, to be sure. But it’s where I’m from, and what I know, and lots of people I love live in those dusty towns along I-20.

Of course, while I was there I longed to break out of the safe cocoon, to see what the rest of the world held for me. But I’ve spent a lot of this winter wanting to crawl right back into that cocoon, missing ACU and Highland and Sunday nights at Lifeteam and Tuesday nights at Mezamiz with my girlfriends. I’ve shaken my fist at the winter, certainly, but what it really comes down to is this: I miss being known.

I miss Amber asking me about my weekend as I walk into the office on Monday morning. I miss hanging out in her office with Amy and Tessa, trading girl talk. I miss running into at least a few people I know as I walk across campus, dropping in to see Bethany and Kelsey in the Honors College, buying my stamps from Nita at the campus post office. I miss knowing the person on the other end of the line every time I answer my office phone.

I miss hugs from my friends at church, on campus and around town. I miss the inside jokes that come with years of friendship. I miss lunches with Lisa at Bogie’s, with Julie at Tuscany’s or Hickory Street, with Jeremiah in our little house on Sayles Blvd. I miss seeing people I know everywhere – at the grocery store, the mall, while eating dinner out – particularly at Los Arcos, we are all but guaranteed to see a familiar face.

Boston offers bookshops and museums, history and culture, public transportation and exciting new opportunities, for sure. And there are pockets of familiarity, such as Sundays at Brookline and gatherings with our Abilene crew. But I spend a lot of time feeling anonymous here, particularly on the morning commute, which I spend squashed into a subway car with lots of folks I don’t know. Abilene may be hot and dry and relatively unexciting, but I am known there. And I miss that feeling every day.

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