The power of belonging

I have recently completed Brene Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness. As with all of her work, this is insightful and practical, bringing me to laughter and to tears. As she explores the power of belonging, I was prompted to remember my own experience of being invited into the sacred circle…


I live in Steelers country.  Our landscape is as beloved to us in Pittsburgh as the New Mexico terrain is to Georgia O’Keefe.  Whereas O’Keefe captured the serenity of the ancient rock forms in long, low tones of purple and fuchsia, our view is splattered with the active sparkling of black and gold.  Banners, pennants, t-shirts, bumper stickers, entire cars are painted with the Steeler logo. Terrible towels flap from infant strollers and out of windows. We sport our own version of Sudoku by arranging the numbers 7, 86, 43, or 39 in creative places, some permanently emblazed in tattooed flesh.  Even headstones are adorned with the three-diamonds of our Steelers logo.

I boldly claim my position as a Steeler fan simply because I can.  I know nothing about football.  I mean nothing.  And the steep grade of that learning curve is a higher mountain than I dare to climb.  Even the parlance of football is troublesome to me.  A first down seems like it might be the woeful beginning of a whole series of bummers.

But I am a part of the group of enthusiastic fans around the world who raucously claim their allegiance to the Steeler Nation.  We welcome everybody: from those who can name every statistic of our 75-year history to those who don’t know or care a lick about the actual game.  We invite recovering Browns and Raiders fans into our fold.  Everyone can share the Steeler love.

My son, Philip, realized with shock and horror that he was going to be en route to Paris (pity) at one of the most life-determining moments of the year—the moment when the single game Steeler tickets went on sale.  (Moment is the operative word.)  The intensity of Philip’s angst was matched only by the measure of my honor when he asked me to step up to the plate (am I mixing sports metaphors here?) and wait in line to buy his tickets.

Now some of you may hold dearly to your memories of standing in line for tickets to your favorite concert or event, or more recently, to get the first iPhone.  You may conjure up images of camping out in line, drinking coffee or beer all night.  Love emerged in these lines.  Love was consummated in these lines.  People held places for each other while they scouted the area for the best bathroom or a convenient food source.  Stories were swapped in the budding hours of dawn.

Well this isn’t that.

This is virtual line waiting—all performed in my jammies while sitting at my computer.  But just because I wasn’t braving the elements, don’t think that this wasn’t a formable challenge.

Prior to the designated day, Philip instructed me to create an account and a password with Ticketmaster because; in his words, “this will save valuable seconds on ticket day.”  Additionally, he nurturingly (well, maybe) urged me to get a good night’s sleep and to have my morning tea prior to getting in line.  Because, he coached, I would need to be sharp, ready, on my toes.

Tapping into my long over-developed teacher’s-pet-side, I followed Philip’s instructions with absolute precision.  At exactly 9:55 AM I went to my computer and found the website.  I anxiously watched the clock.  At 10:00 to the second (I arranged several clocks around me and made sure that they were accurate), I clicked on the refresh button.  So far so good.  I clicked on the box that indicated the Bengals vs. Steelers game.  I was immediately shifted into line.  I had some momentary cockiness (this was way better than freezing all night with cheap beer).  The computer screen proclaimed the timing of my position.  8 minutes to wait…..7 minutes to wait….6 minutes to wait…my heart was pounding, I was almost there, I was advancing…5 minutes to wait…10 minutes to wait.        10 minutes? WAIT.  WHOA. How did I move back in line?  Someone ditched.  Someone with bouncier gigabytes and firmer memory loads had clearly shoved me out of the way.  I didn’t even know how to stick out my pointing little techno-elbows to block their passage. I persevered… standing… chanting… Stee..lers… Stee…lers… Steel…ers… I might push if I could just figure out how…waiting…pacing in place (never moving from the computer)…and finally getting to the ticket window. The Bengals game was completely sold out.  OH MY GOSH.  No time to lament.

Quickly, with the deft fingers of a brain surgeon (or with an even higher level of skill, that of a 10-year-old with a phone), I was back in line for tickets to the Bills game.  This line was shorter.  Was that a good thing?  I wasn’t sure. 5 minutes to wait.. 4 minutes… 6 minutes (more virtual cutters, this time I didn’t let it get to me)… and finally up to the ticket window.  Sold out again.

Done.  At exactly 10:17 all tickets to all games were sold out.

I dreaded Philip’s email from Paris.  He began with the perfunctory information. He had arrived.  He was safe. Paris was wonderful.  Never one to waste time on chatter, he moved immediately to the heart and the heat of his message:  Did you get the tickets?  As my tapping fingers were bleeding an apology, my disappointment, my sorrow, I happened to notice that the “To:” line on his email contained several addresses.  H’mmm.  He had arranged back up.  For a moment I considered the possibility that he didn’t completely trust me with the sanctity of this assignment. But no, that surely couldn’t be it.  I am his mother.  I raised him.  Another explanation, the one I’m sticking to, is that he invited me deeply into the huddle of those who put their Saturday morning on the line for Steeler tickets.  He included me in the Steeler mania.  He returned the gift that I gave him at the moment of his birth when I kissed his beautiful, slobbery head—the power of belonging.

Belonging is one of the basics.  It’s right after food, shelter and safety on our trip to self-actualization.  Belonging helps us know who we are and gives us the security to maximize our potential.  It is only in the warmth of the nest that we learn to flap our wings and fly.  Belonging is both the grounding wire and the power surge.  Belonging grows the intricate root system and produces the juicy fruit.  Belonging is having the entire power of the offensive line driving us forward, and the grit and girth of the defense blocking the obstacles in our way.

Martin Buber invites us to stand up and be counted for those things in which we strongly believe.  So I am standing up to be counted.  With my most erect, sometimes stiff, posture, I want to be counted.

I stand up for the power of belonging.

I stand up for inviting others into our most sacred spaces. Even those who don’t quite fit our preconceived molds, especially those who don’t quite fit.

I stand up for making the world a gentler place by opening our circles to those whose life choices come from a different playbook than ours, to those who seem to have lost their playbooks altogether, to those who had to call their kids to find out what a playbook actually is.

And I’m pretty sure, that if I stand up for belonging; and for inviting people into my sacred space; and for opening circles, then I stand up for peace.

Count me in as a hard core Steelers fan.


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