An Unexpected Place to Find Kindness: What Made Me Feel Like I Belong

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ~Mother Teresa

Routines are important to me. I rely on certain things to bring me back home to myself; to feel clear and open in my mind, body, and heart.

One of the activities that bring steadiness to my life is swimming. It’s one of my greatest pleasures. There is something magical to me about the feeling of water on my skin, the repetition of the arm strokes that calm my mind, the sound of my breath that relaxes my body, and the rays of sunlight that reflect off the water.

I rely on swimming three mornings a week. I like to say it gets me back in my lane or it keeps me out of the others’ lanes.

I showed up to my local pool several weeks ago—pool closed due to mechanical issues.

It was just supposed to be for a few days. I told myself that it was a gift to give my body a rest from swimming. Over the next few days, I told myself that this time allowed me to help a loved one who needed extra care. But as more time passed, I couldn’t find a reason to find peace without swimming. I missed it.

I found another pool a bit farther away from my home. Though I felt irritated that I had to go to another pool and create a new routine, I chose my love for swimming over any of the inconveniences.

After my first swim, an employee ran over to me and said, “I’d like to introduce myself and welcome you to our pool. It’s wonderful to have more lap swimmers here.” We connected over our love for swimming.

I left feeling a little more cheerful than I usually do after a swim, and I am already pretty cheerful after swimming.

I came back the following week, and after finishing my swim was greeted by the water aerobics women. As I got out of the pool, they chatted with me about swimming and how they want to learn to do laps.

Over the next few weeks, I began to notice that every time I left swimming, I was a bit more cheerful.

One morning, as the aerobics women came into the pool, I noticed that they greeted each other with hugs and kisses (yes, in the pool at 9:00 a.m.).  I asked the lifeguard, “Does this always happen?” 

He replied, “Sure does.”

In the locker room women hum songs, tell me to have a blessed day, and chat with me about all sorts of things as I shower. I don’t know anyone personally, and yet they are undeniably kind and warm to me.

Just this past week a woman belted out in the locker room I AM BEAUTIFUL. I couldn’t help but feel completely overjoyed at this women’s confidence and radiance.

I have been noticing how I’ve been feeling after swimming, and I have become curious about what’s contributed to the fact I haven’t checked if my pool has reopened.

It’s the women. It’s the kindness. It’s the singing. It’s the joyful greetings. It’s the curiosity.

While I only know two women by name, they know even less about me and how the things they have been doing for many years have been bringing an extra dose of cheer into my life.

It has not been easy for me living in a neighborhood that is known for intergenerational legacies of families living here. I didn’t come from this neighborhood. Even though I have been here for eighteen years, feeling like I fit in has been a private struggle that I don’t often share with others.

In this pool, a short drive from my home, in another neighborhood, I have found a place that I need more of in my life. 

We all want to find our people; we all want to belong.

Sometimes we don’t actually know how much pain we hold until we are blessed with the one thing that has been missing—kindness.

And with that kindness, the protection starts to soften and the hurts come to the surface. We realize that’s just what our heart was holding all of these years.

In my mind, I’ve known the story of the past eighteen years of living in a place I don’t really feel like I fit.

I’ve worked with the beliefs. I’ve taken responsibility for what is mine to learn, heal, and grow from. I’ve also come to accept that this was what life gave me and that even in not feeling like I belong, there have been tremendous gifts and blessings these past years.

But it is also true that we need to give words to our truth. I want to belong. It is a human birthright to belong. We are designed to belong to groups of human beings.

We see people through our own lens and make up stories about them that aren’t necessarily true. I am grateful that these women at the pool didn’t make up a story about me and instead treated me with kindness.

They could have easily made up a story about me. They are black, and I am white. They know I am not from their neighborhood, but instead, they saw past what I looked like and opened their hearts to me. They sang to me in the shower, blessed my day with prayers, and wished me well for the rest of my day.

None of us know the story of someone’s insides. None of us know how simple acts of kindness and inclusion can make someone feel like they belong.

Sometimes the people that we least expect to make a difference in our lives do. We are all capable of this.

We all live with a protected heart in some ways; none of us are free from hurts. If I hadn’t sat with the pain of not belonging and feeling disappointed in past relationships, my heart may have been impenetrable. I had to learn to be there for myself with kindness before I could allow others to be there for me. I think this is true for all of us.

Sometimes the simple gesture of placing your hand on your heart and saying to yourself, “I am here for you” is a great act of kindness and allows the unexpected joys of life to be felt when you least expect them.

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