Why didn’t I come here sooner? As I enter my fifth year living in Michigan, I berate myself for just now making it to Detroit.
I was unaware of Michigan’s quirks and nuances when I moved to Grand Rapids in 2012. The tightly-knit locals call their half of the state “West Michigan.” No, not western Michigan, as you may typically refer to a region. The designation of “West Michigan” is a severing from the east side of the state in an attempt to form a distinct identity.
The east side of the state, with its statistics and stereotypes. Poverty, crime, blight, bankruptcy, pollution, lead poisoning, decay. I wrote Detroit off. I let the headlines and apocalyptic language shape my understanding of places I had never been, where people live who I had never met. When a co-worker suggested I visit Detroit sometime, I scoffed.
As Courtney Martin writes in The New Better Off, “…curiosity is not a matter of geography, but generosity.” Writing places off denies their beauty and worth; it denies that there is life and vitality and something to learn from each nook and cranny of this marvelous world.
I sink into the earth. The sand warm and supportive. Gritty, molding.
I sink into the earth from which I came. Attentive to her quiet and powerful energy; her soft, permeating heartbeat.
It’s morning and I walk along the river. Body sore and awake from yoga, I walk by the glistening river. It flutters in the sun, warming up as winter recedes. Flexing its muscles. Returning to itself. Invigorating and hopeful, a privilege to witness. If only one pays attention.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had dreams about my dad dying.
The details were always fuzzy, but the pang of loss so sharp I remember it still. I’d fall to the ground sobbing, clinging to his feet, before waking up disoriented with wet, raw cheeks.
Growing up, dreams about losing my childhood best friend weren’t rare either. She’d disappear into a blinding light while I scrambled to pull her back, frantic despair spreading through each vein until it consumed me entirely.
Guest post by Sarah Holle
It has been a year of grief.
It has been a year of death, abuse, depression, and anxiety; of deception, unjust legal and political systems, mysterious health problems, and financial uncertainty.
Throughout this year I have felt isolation set in as I try to make sense of it all. I have drawn away at times, crippled by the overwhelming amount of suffering experienced at once. Yet I have found rest in the vast beauty of nature and comfort in the non-judgmental spirits of plants. They create a restorative atmosphere, content to simply exist and sit with you and those around you.
The story of Jesus is the greatest story I know.
It is a story of humility, of infinite power relinquished and privilege surrendered. It is a story of incarnate love entering into pain, identifying with the other, and choosing to belong to a broken people.
Religion aside, I’m mesmerized by the story of Jesus. Contemplating the idea of belonging in this season of advent strikes me as an urgent call. In the backdrop of a grievous year and our global anxiety, we need the story of Jesus more than ever.
What does belonging mean to you?
I won’t try to constrain a dynamic, ambiguous concept like belonging to a definition of my own, but exploring the depth and breadth of its meaning is a worthwhile pursuit—and will lay the foundation for our conversations moving forward.
Across history, and countless languages, cultures, and texts, the idea of belonging has taken shape in nuanced understandings. While aware of my limitations in exposure to such a vast and universal topic, here are some key ways I think of belonging:
We belong to one another.
Strip the titles, labels, and identities away, and our shared humanity remains.
Understanding that we belong to one another is the necessary starting place for individual and collective healing, as well as for social transformation. Though vulnerable to clichés and lofty sentiments, when taken to heart this understanding has far-reaching implications.