I was thinking the other day about the definition of belonging, of what it means to be part of something outside of ourselves, to feel a connectedness with others, be it friend or family. This time of year, where ice and snow and cold sometimes create barriers, a sense of isolation and aloneness can move in and take up residence. Much has been written about loneliness and its detriment to our health. And I wondered about community and what it means to our well-being. The age of technology has made our lives simpler in terms of procuring goods and information, but what have we lost, I can’t help wondering.
The Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue wrote: “There is a huge abyss within every mind. When we belong, we have an outside mooring to prevent us from falling into ourselves.” I like the image of that mooring, of friendship reaching out and taking our hand, of a neighbour’s hand raised in a friendly hello, of a car pausing on the street to let us in. All these simple acts create a mooring for us, a connectedness.
I know of people who are my age without any family. Winter is hard on them. Their access to friends and activities is limited by weather and road/sidewalk conditions. We can exchange texts and emails, but I think people need the physical, need a hugged greeting, need the sound of laughter, need the exchange of conversation to give us O’Donohue’s mooring.
I think of people new to this country, fleeing deplorable conditions to find themselves now without a sense of community, without the familiar, without comfort, and facing a new adversary in snow and cold.
I recently saw Little Women on the big screen, the seventh adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s written creation from 150+ years ago. I don’t know how this current film stacks up to others, but I loved it. The single moment in the film that captured my heart was the mother of this band of daughters giving her scarf, anonymously tucking the scarf into a man’s belongings who had suffered great loss in the Civil War. And so when I recently read Neil Gaiman’s words, an English writer focusing his literary talent on refugees, I was comforted once again, as if Mrs. March’s scarf was given to me. “Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place,” wrote Gaiman, “to hold out a badly-knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest season.”
I see it on the faces of those for whom I hold a door or of those whom I let go ahead of me in the grocery check-out line or those I simply exchange a smile with. It takes no great flourishing act of generosity to change one’s day and costs not one penny. It takes only kindness; it takes only but a moment of our time to create connection. And the bonus is: the warmth and sense of belonging comes back to us in spades.