I just read, in an essay by Karen Montagno entitled Midwives and Holy Subversives, her description of the many circles of belonging in her life. She says, “My story is one of overlapping contexts. … I am an African American woman … instructor and practitioner of pastoral care, an Episcopal priest in a local parish, a seminary dean, and a parent. My communities are multiple, significant, and formative.”
It resonated with me. It’s really true for all of us as humans. I don’t mean that I identify with Karen Montagno’s unique and specific context, but with the more universal observation that we all belong to many overlapping circles.
Today I reflected on some of my circles.
In my life, you won’t be surprised that I put family first: my own birth family of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings. My husband, with whom I have shared a longer relationship than anyone else in my world, except my mom, sister and two brothers. My nieces and nephews. My extended family through marriage, with whom many special moments (happy and sorrowful) have been shared. And foremost, my daughters Jessie and Sarah.
Then there are so many other webs of connection. For instance, there are circles of social ties. Personal friendships developed across years of proximity and shared experiences, forming complex bonds that include raising children together, being single or inside marriages or partnerships, changing careers or relocating homes, setting and reaching for personal goals, and so many other milestones that we share with our intimate ones. Acquaintances through different organizations or shared interests … maybe we waited together in the schoolyard while picking up or dropping off children at class, met in line at Zumi’s, or sat side by side on the sidelines of a soccer game while our kids played in a game.
Then we have ties to our colleagues and peers in the workplace or the professional field; we share significant time together and many responsibilities. Plenty of us also dedicate time to service or volunteering in different organizations: mine happens to include Rotary Club and some civic organizations. And for many of us, this also includes our faith community, where we spend a rich amount of time that is deeply emotional and intellectual, but also involves engagement of much time and talent: many folks invest a lot of their lives in this sphere. And there are other connections to mentors and coaches and teachers. Plus more occasional and yet oddly intimate transactions with other people on whom we depend in some way, whether it’s a medical caregiver or a counselor, or perhaps the person working at the cash register in our neighborhood, or the train on which we commute, or the circulation desk of the library we visit. (I’ve also recently added a campus community. My professors, students and advisors. The staff and peers with whom I now spend several hours a day.)
And of course, we can identify with larger contexts. By ethnicity. By gender. By faith tradition. By sexual preference. By political affiliation. By nationality. By so many “markers.” I thought a lot, this past week, about the labels that are placed on us. The categories used to define us. The ways we are perceived by the world, and the ways in which we describe ourselves. Some of these labels and tags may be welcome. Many are probably weighed heavily with assumptions and preconceived ideas that we would prefer not to accept or have applied to us. It is wise to be thoughtful about these labels and categories. And to challenge how you many be applying them to others as well.
Today I’m glad to be the following things:
- Wife and partner
- Sister, daughter, cousin, niece, aunt
- Christian with an open mind about other faiths
- Member of First Church, Ipswich, UCC
- Professional website developer and writer
- Director of non-profit foundation working with cancer families
- Graduate student at Harvard University’s Divinity School
- Commuter by foot and train
- Resident of Ipswich, Massachusetts in New England, USA
- Independent (political party)
There are lots more circles of belonging, I’m sure. I belong to so many communties, large and small. And I have responsibilities to all of them. I feel a little overwhelmed when I consider all that I’m trying to balance right now. I bet we all do, at one point or another. So I consider my communities. I make checklists and put dates and commitments on the calendar. Prioritize. Do one thing at a time. Breathe. And try to do what’s possible and relinquish what I cannot do right now.
Voting is not just a privilege. It is a responsibility. It’s your chance to act. To speak with your vote. To care and be engaged in issues that affect you and your community. To the places where you live, work and play. The people with whom you belong.