A Place Where We Belong

August 27, 2021
Reading time: 4 minutes
Happiness, Parenting, Purpose, Relationships

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Is there a life event more charged with anticipation and hope than the first day of school? I can think of no adult life event that even comes close.

On the first day of school, and especially the first day of a new school, nothing lies ahead but pure potential. It’s all in your hands, and that makes it both exhilarating and anxiety-inducing! This year both my girls are entering new schools. Miriam is off to her first week of college, and in a couple of weeks, Abigail begins her new school that specializes in educating bright, young minds with the gift of dyslexia.

Miriam’s hopes for her college experience are pretty in sync with mine. Obviously, I want her to learn, be a diligent student, and hopefully find her calling. But one of my fondest hopes for my eldest daughter is to find true friends. Like Friends level friends. I hope she finds her tribe, some as yet unmet group of like-minded people who will inspire her and support her and become lifelong friends. She hasn’t gotten to have that experience yet, and really, that’s the good stuff.

“Of all the means to ensure happiness throughout the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.” -Epicurus

I remember my high school years, too. I had friends and engaged in school activities, but I never felt a deep sense of belonging with any group. My friends weren’t bad friends, we were just young and didn’t know who we were yet. Maybe close, lifelong friendships are just formed later in life. That lack of community and not having a friend who really got me, well, let’s just say my high school years won’t be making any of my ‘best of’ lists! And much like me, Miriam didn’t find her people in high school, either.

But college, college is a whole new world! A bigger world. I know she’ll find her place and her group. And I know that in this fleeting fragment of time before classes start, when all is still potential, her people are out there wondering when they’ll find Miriam and their own deep sense of belonging that true friendship forges.

In many ways going off to college is the first milestone of adulthood. And classic Miriam, she has gone away to school, as in many miles, several states between us, making it very difficult to spontaneously pop in to check on her without buying a plane ticket or driving five straight hours. But I also know we’ve raised an exceptional young woman who knows her own mind and is resourceful. She knows that no matter what, I will always be her light when she needs help through the dark.

Over the next few years, I hope Miriam gets the life experience to find out what lights her up and inspires her passion. I also want her to learn what dims her light, what situations deplete her energy, and identify the kinds of people who diminish her enjoyment of life. It’s not a class her college offers, but maybe it should be!

Abigail is also starting a new adventure in an environment that I believe will help her develop into a powerful leader (she already has strong leadership skills). Maybe more important than the academics, my hope is that this school restores her confidence. She’s such a bright girl, but before her dyslexia was discovered, she struggled at school, which was so confusing for both of us. Naturally, that struggle shook her confidence a little. I know this school is going to set her up to achieve great things. I want her to feel proud of herself. I hope she will be very happy and find kids that she connects with.

By the way, that last part is Abigail’s greatest hope, too. For the last few years, Abigail has been actively seeking and dreaming of her best friend. She knows she’s out there, and the pain she feels at not having found her yet is so raw. It almost brings me to tears how much she yearns for her as yet unmet best friend. In the meantime, we’ve both agreed that I am her interim, acting best friend. I’m doing a good job, but I know she looks forward to the day she finds her age-appropriate bf so they can experience many firsts together.

There’s a theme here, one of connectedness and belonging. Our human desire to connect and belong is inherent and necessary for us to flourish and enjoy life. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs lists it as so fundamental that it comes only after safety and food. In fact, if we each don’t find our place and feel that we are accepted and belong, it is almost impossible to transcend up the hierarchy to experience things like competency, self-confidence, and purpose. All of which we need to be successful parents, partners, and hold purposeful roles within society. My girls aren’t experiencing anything that we all haven’t felt at one time or another.

The way in which we find our sense of belonging is up to us. Covid-19 social distancing requirements resulted in people forming pods, a small group of friends, family, or neighbors that they interacted with socially, to the exclusion of everyone else. Not surprisingly, as people are returning to offices and venturing out more socially, many find that they miss their tight knit groups. The bonds they forged and the time they spent together fostered a deep sense of belonging, one that they keenly miss. Others find their place in the military, in many instances becoming closer than their own family members. The HBO series that followed a close-knit group of soldiers through their experiences in WWII was called Band of Brothers for a reason. Others will find their place in a spiritual or religious community. Take the mafia as another good example. Less dangerous than the military or the mafia, college is a perfect environment for fostering friendship among groups.

Before Miriam left for college, she bought Abigail a sweatshirt that says, “My Sister Goes to GW University.” Obviously, Miriam was excited about going, and she thoughtfully found a way to include Abigail. Connectedness. It’s really beautiful. We yearn for it when we don’t feel it. And seeing the longing in both of my girls awakens such appreciation within me. It’s a process, and a process I’m still in the middle of, but I am so thankful for having found my tribe, my calling, my belonging.

One last hope for Miriam, that the further away she is physically from us, the closer she feels to us in her soul. I also want her to come home every weekend. One can have hope, right?


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