I clearly remember the day when I first said: “I long to belong.”
It was during one of those everyday moments. I was playing a game with my daughter that she had brought from Kindergarten. The game was often on her list of homework and we practiced it in different situations. (For example, while we walked down the street or waited on the elevator).
The game was quite simple. One participant picks the word, and then the other player has to find the words which rhyme with it. That day, I remember, she started the game by saying long and I continue…. song …. belong.
– I long to belong – suddenly came out of my mouth and probably because of the rhyme, it sounded like a tagline.
I think that every person can fit in the sentence. At least in one segment of life, sooner or later, everyone recognizes the desire for belonging. Whether it is somewhere, to someone or something. This feeling is obviously the most important part of our life experience on Earth. And like the many characters we read about in books or watch on screen, people are constantly challenged throughout life with difficult circumstances, situations or relationships where they first have to experience reasons they don’t belong.
I belong here, is in fact written on the cover page of the Active Living Guide for my local municipality.
For some time the municipality has been printing the guides always using these three magical words. By adding another two or three they open up a new season introducing readers with their courses, activities, and locations welcoming everyone: families, children, adults, and seniors( even a cat Clover: https://www.vicnews.com/community/meet-clover-the-commonwealth-cat/).
I like this message very much mainly because it puts a single person in a position of power. It does not ask anyone to direct time and energy to the goal that is constantly evading us but rather suggests that belonging is a decision one should make for himself. What is also suggested is that everyone is already welcome. No matter where a person comes from, what he/she knows or doesn’t know, has or doesn’t have, he/she can find his/her place.
I recently brought this up in a conversation with my colleagues at work. I asked them to give me their definition of the word belong. I was given different and somewhat opposite opinions. One said that belonging is a person’s tendency to fit into a certain framework and gain their place within the community. He emphasized the struggle between an individual and group identity saying that an individual is the one who is sadly less appreciated. Then we touched on our company and the other co-worker concluded how we are a good example of a group made of completely different individuals. From outside the characters seem maybe incompatible at first, but on the inside, this works positively to help meet the company’s business and goals.
– For a while – I said – let’s leave aside the definition – I wanted to hear about their experiences. – How do you know that you belong?
-Hmm, it’s a feeling. And a hard one to describe – said the one I just talked with.
He recalled the time where he came to Victoria BC to study. Upon his arrival, he didn’t know much about the city. He used every moment to explore his new surroundings and become more familiar with it. One day he strolled the downtown and observed the people he passed by. Coming from the small hometown he was quick to notice how different everyone was. What was even more interesting was that no one from the crowd paid any extra attention to what they were doing or how they looked. Just that experience, he acknowledged, prior to any of his friendships he made later, prior to any goal he accomplished, was enough for him to feel that he had reached the place he would call home.
We were explaining the feeling of belonging with words like – connection, understanding, trust, inner peace. I also added that this feeling for me was a two-way street. One direction leads from the individual to the group, and the other from the group to the individual. In true belonging, the impacts are always mutual, as are the changes that come with them.
There is, of course, a reason why this word is on my mind these days.
Last year I went to one of the branches of the Greater Victoria Public Library. I had written and published my first book and I wanted to make a donation. It was my intention to offer the book to all those who would be interested in reading it. The librarian was very helpful and gave me instructions on how to address my request, but hearing that the book was my own project she also proposed another opportunity.
– I think you should check out this collection – she gave me a brochure with the information about Emerging local authors and continued: – This might be the door you should be knocking on – she convinced me to pursue it.
Emerging Local Authors was first presented in the year of 2015. when librarians from the Great Victoria Public Library created a new way to celebrate the members of their community. Well known for its rich writing culture, Victoria had a lot of local writers, independent illustrators, small press and self-published books which had been unknown and out of reach for many readers. Librarians decided to start a collection that would enable local author’s work to be recognized and accessible to the wider audience.
Each year, at the beginning of October, the GVPL receives many applications for new material that wish to be presented in the library the following year.
Without hesitation, I wrote them a letter. Although I met the required criteria – I lived in Victoria, I had published the book in the current year, I had registered the book in the Canadian register – I still wasn’t sure if they would except the book written in my Serbian language. It only took me three or four days to get a reply. I was invited to join them.
On Saturday, May 4th, 2019, a public ceremony was held in the presence of the Board members of the GVPL, local authors, and librarians. The new 2019/2020. collection was officially presented to the public.
I thank the library for the opportunity. I am honored to be a part of this unique program that has grown into a movement and has found its way into the libraries in Ontario, Vancouver, and New Zealand.
I deeply appreciate the trust they gave me. Over the past five years, more than six hundred authors have had the chance to present their books. Among them, there were a small number of those who had written the books in another language other than English. I was told that on the list of 80 authors from this year’s collection, I’m the only one with a book in a foreign language.
I want to thank the GVPL for the recognition. All of the books from the collection are put in the register of Great Victoria Public Library, on display downtown at the Central Branch and can be borrowed at any time throughout the next 12 months.
And finally, I want to thank all of those who came to this event to be by my side and who have supported me through my process: firstly my devoted husband, my incredible daughter for whom inspired the book and who the book is dedicated to, dear friends and my book designer Irina Spica.
Leaving the plateau that day, I was filled with gratitude and love. While going through my pictures that evening I was hoping to find the right words to express my feelings. It was then when I recalled those three magical words from the local Active Living Guide. I knew exactly what I would add to describe my experience and send my message:
I belong here, feeling accepted!