Belonging

[First posted in January 2013 on www.deepeningcommunity.ca]

As 2012 was drawing to a close, I noticed how many holiday events included discounts for couples and special rates for people with children. Sometimes it feels like those of us who are single and childless are doubly punished in a culture that rewards romance and caters to families.

The phrase that often trudges through my mind when I’m trying to decide how to spend the holidays—or with whom to take a vacation—is “I don’t belong to anybody.” I mean “belong” not in the negative sense of being owned like property—as women and slaves were for centuries in this society, and still are in several parts of the world. I mean it in the positive way of deep mutual connection: “belonging.”

I ended up spending Thanksgiving with my sisters and their families, savoring my first taste of fried turkey, reading books and playing games with a growing circle of active great-nieces and -nephews. Two weeks later I treated two dear friends, former church colleagues in Atlanta, to a wonderful stage production of The Gifts of the Magi, based on the beloved O. Henry story. On my way back home to North Carolina, I made my annual Christmas visit to a friend who has spent forty years imprisoned on Georgia’s death row.

Belonging

Christmas Eve brought Circle of Mercy, the congregation that I co-pastor, out for a candlelit service in the barn at the small mountain farm where I live with a community of friends. It was magical, with a live newborn in the manger, singing sheep, and delighted young angels floating down from the hayloft.

A few hours later we launched Christmas Day at the farm with a breakfast of omelets and sweet homemade pastries, and then exchanged gifts. The youngest among us had made fragrant soap and brightly beaded earrings; the oldest had crafted beautiful wooden spoons from maple and oak trees that had fallen on our property during a windstorm.

I shared lunch with another circle of friends. Our host whipped up a tasty chicken curry, and the rest of us brought the condiments: yogurt, coconut, dried cranberries, orange slices, mango chutney. I spent the late afternoon with a homebound friend, listening together to the CD of Gregorian chants that was my Christmas gift to her. Dinner was a traditional feast with my co-pastors (a married couple) and their extended family: mother, sister, daughters, and grandchildren.

New Year’s Day was exactly what I needed: restful hours of sipping hot tea, listening to quiet jazz, and writing in my journal by the fireplace with my dogs snuggled at my feet. I crave time alone. And I really like making my own decisions. But I also know that embracing solitude and celebrating independence can mean treading close to the thin edge of loneliness. This is the gift and challenge of singleness.

Sometimes I feel single by choice, and sometimes by default. The good news is that I’m free to nurture an amazing array of bonds with family, friends, church, and community. And these give me enough “belonging” to remind me that I live a full, rich—and deeply connected—life. By the time I arrived back home late on Christmas night, the phrase that was dancing through my head was “I belong to everybody.”

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