Belonging

On the 5th November, I had the enormous privilege of running the New York marathon together with my husband, David. I must confess upfront, that I definitely do not regard myself as a runner. What captivates me is the idea of participating in a big global race in a city as exciting as NYC and this provides the motivation required to put the training in!

Since returning home, I have been asked many times how the marathon went. Whilst many people are curious to hear about the experience itself, a lot of the questions relate to how the actual running bit went, how we coped and what kind of time we finished in.

The impact of this race had less to do with running for me.

Instead, it was a wonderful, magical experience of belonging and common humanity.

The atmosphere at the start was charged with anticipation, nervousness and palpable excitement as Frank Sinatra serenaded us off on our adventure through the five boroughs of “New York, New York”. Whilst actual conversation was minimal, there was no doubt that all 50000 runners were united by the buzz of common purpose – to get to the finish line in Central Park.

Despite the overcast and drizzly weather, the people of New York showed up in multitudes to offer generous and heartfelt cheers of support and encouragement. As a foreigner and therefore an outsider I found this especially touching. There were many moments during the race when I locked eyes with a random stranger and through a simple smile or a wave we exchanged an appreciation for each other simply as human beings. “I see you. And you are great!”

I marveled at how the human spirit naturally moves towards connection and that when we transcend our differences, we can forge belonging with ease, as if it is the most natural thing in the world.

I wondered in frustration why we cannot get this right in our everyday life – this ability to recognize each other’s effort and to cheer each other on in both struggle and success. Why does it take an event like a marathon to catalyse this kind of feeling and behaviour?

In “real life”, we are often so quick to notice “difference” and then to disengage. My learning has been this – in the diverse communities that we are all a part of, what might shift in our hearts, minds and general stance towards each other, if we can just get this one thing right – to consciously cultivate connection by recognizing the common humanity in each other and by choosing to see not just the things that make us different, but more importantly, the things that make us the same?