In the last couple of weeks I’ve reflected a lot on what it means to belong. I’ve talked with friends about what it means to them to belong in a place, to a community; how do you know you do, when does it happen?
We’ve shifted several times in our lives; in the days before children, then with our young family a couple of times and now overseas again for this second big OE. I’ve known the feeling of being new, anonymous, alone, not part of a place, and then the lovely realisation that you belong. In my experience there has been some thing – a comment, an event, a moment of revelation – that suddenly makes you think, “oh yes I belong here, I’m part of this,” but the transition itself is gradual. In the introduction to his cookbook The Sweet Life in Paris, American chef David Lebovitz amusingly recounts the moment he knew he had become Parisian when he found himself changing into “good” clothes to take the rubbish bags out. I laughed in recognition reading the story, knowing I might add a dash of lipstick too.
Almost three weeks ago The Thing happened that made me realise how much I belong in Paris. I don’t mean I belong here and nowhere else, or that I’ve stopped being a New Zealander. No, I’m still me, but I am here in Paris, I’ve adopted aspects of la vie parisienne and I belong to a community, a circle of friends of French and expatriot Parisians whose lives are happily connected with mine.
Never before (and I hope never ever again), will it be a tragedy like the terrorist attacks in Paris that trigger my realisation that I belong. Immediately I knew of the attack my fears were for our friends who live, work and socialise in the area where the terrorists struck. It is an area we know well, the weekend before we had met a friend for lunch at a café just a stone’s throw from where 11 people were gunned down at La Belle Equipe on rue Charonne. Two young American knitters I had met at knit night only a week or so before had me worried, one I knew worked and lived in that same neighbourhood. As social media updates and messages appeared we established that all our friends and their families were safe. Thankfully my two new knitting acquaintances turned up to knit night the following week, safe and sound, wondering like all of us how could this happen in beloved Paris.
As our family and friends rang, messaged, emailed and texted to check on us in the aftermath of the attacks we knew we belonged not only in our immediate Paris community but to a caring circle of loved ones with arms that stretch around the world. Thank you all.
Belonging in a community of love, respect and goodwill is a notion to be cherished. We must make it happen, safeguard it and nourish it. I figure it’s the best protection we have.