I think it was some kind of sign from the universe that Arielle started this project around the same time that I became pregnant with my first child. When a woman knows she's going to carry another human, I think she imagines the countless ways that this little creature will take in and learn about the world. She imagines what she'll impart on him consciously and unconsciously and what he'll see and understand all on his own. I think the universe asked me if I was ready to answer questions about things that I never actually asked myself. What does humanity mean? What is belonging, and why won't he always feel included? What does love look like? Why does cruelty exist? Where does racism come from? What will it feel like if people see his last name and assume they know everything about him?
I needed to have a conversation with myself before I would ever be able to look into his little face and tell him what I believe.
In the span of 4 years, as I've listened to story after story, and poignant moment after poignant moment in Arielle's films and interviews, I have considered these questions carefully as well as automatically. And now it's almost like I've been conditioned to examine these thoughts over and over. I don't think this conversation with myself will ever be over, in fact.
How do I define what it means to be human? What do I see in others that are 'different' from me? What do I cling to most in the people who are 'similar' to me? Where do I feel a sense of belonging, and will I feel it always in the same places, with the same people? What do I need from people? What is it that I give people?
I think I've always been a fairly introspective person, (definitely very sensitive... almost too sensitive in the ways I let people in), and I've always sought connection with people from everywhere and anywhere, but I know in my heart that it was this project that had me craving to know more about the messy stuff of this human life - the raw material that composes all of us and the subjects that no one quite knows how to explain; we just feel them. I am done being curious about the towns that people call home, the companies where they work, how many siblings they have. I want to know (if they want to share) about how they deal with loss, how they push through discrimination, how they achieve their dreams. The stuff that shakes their cores, touches their souls, and changes them forever.
Because that's where humanity lies, I think. The beautiful, confusing, heart-rending, excruciating, exasperating, humiliating, sorrowful details that make up the nitty-gritty of our human life. This is what creates us after we are born, and this is what connects us until we die. And if this project has inspired me to do one thing, it's to teach my children to understand that no one escapes this messy stuff. It doesn't matter what you look like, how much money you have, where you were born - every single person will endure these things, and that is why we all need each other. Gloria Vanderbuilt said, "We're not here to see through one another; we're here to see one another through." This is the answer to all of those abstract questions in one way or another. To hear, reflect on, and take in someone else's messy story is to learn about them, yourself and all of humanity, but it is also to feel connected to them.
I think it's my responsibility to keep that curiosity alive in my children. To inspire them to listen and look for someone's messy story so they can recognize themselves in some way. To show them that they may not be able to connect with everyone, but that everyone needs and deserves to be seen. To explain that everyone's story is valid and real and meaningful. And to prove that to learn someone's story is to know what belonging is, what love is, what humanity is.
I've loved being a part of the Belonging project, and I don't think this deeper curiosity will be going anywhere. In fact, I'll be using it to make connections in my classroom next week when I meet my new 8th grade students. A whole new Belonging audience :)
May you find true belonging in this messy life.