Friday, December 17, 2010

Thoughts on belonging.

Belonging (n): happiness felt in a secure relationship
Belong (v): (1) to be owned by (2) To be a part or adjunct (3) To be rightly classified in a class or category (4) To be suitable or acceptable (5) To be in the right place or situation (6) To be a member, adherent, inhabitant, etc (of a group, organization, or place)

Three or four years ago I attended a conference in order to keep up with con-ed units. I was never a member of the sponsoring organization, but there were quite a few topics and speakers that piqued my interest. I was ready to be fully transported back to geek mode, where I can quite happily reside (you really haven’t lived until you’ve listened to a four hour talk on ear wax). From previous years’ experience, I knew also that the soapboxes would be ready for use as props at will. And at this conference, boy, are they stacked high! But no judgment on that note really. Who can truly and passionately present on a hot topic without the use of one. Even the ear wax people soapboxed! And surely I’ve used a few in my time too. So I was prepared for this, even looking forward to finding some humor in it.

What I was unprepared for though, was the way this group responded to the keynote speaker. She was invited from an organization sometimes seen to be at odds with the platform of this group. It seems that she was invited to speak, not to bridge the gap, but to allow a question and answer segment normally not reserved for a keynote speaker, in order that the points of contention be attacked. I sat in disbelief,
ashamed to be a participant, as Ph.D. after Ph.D. stood and, tongues dripping with sarcasm, attacked this poor woman (who must have been pushing 80, and somehow maintained enough composure to leave the podium stand before the tears started to stream down her face). All I could think was that if my southern mother and flannel-wearing father saw me invite someone into my house and behave so, belts would snap and I’d probably still be turned over someone’s knee and shamed out of existence with just a shake of their heads.

But why is this story relevant? Well, I’ve been thinking about identifying with groups and the sense of “belonging.” So, in the classic Sex and the City manner, I’ll answer my own question.

There are some groups with whom I am affiliated, but don’t want to be counted a part of. Generally speaking, that’s my MO: to remain loosely affiliated, on the outskirts of a group, not feeling like I’m meant to be in the thick of it.

But back to the point. Shortly after becoming a member at CrossFit Palo Alto and after a long CrossFit hiatus, I left the box one night in an almost euphoric state. It was after a “simple” wod, and I was struck by the idea that this was a place I felt a sense of belonging. It was in one of those workouts in the old gym that we had to go in heats. A 10->1/1->10. There were about five people standing and watching while three guys and I tackled the first heat. I was buoyed up by these observers who simply called out my name or sounds of encouragement during this workout. I’ve crossfitted for a while and played a few sports in my time, so community/team support is not new to me, but this was different, and I thought on instinct (after my 7 minutes and 29 seconds were done and my brain could turn back on), “This is where I belong.” A simple thought, but from a girl like me who has a practically certifiable phobia of “belonging” and commitment, it was a big deal.

And because I’m me, I started making lists of what that meant. Sure enough, Webster would be proud. You ever get a common word stuck in your head until there is a new meaning grown from it? Or learn a new word only to hear it popping up all over the place? And you wonder if it’s been there all along and you’ve been oblivious to it? Or did everyone suddenly learn it and start using it?  I catch myself wanting to “belong” to other things as well and I have to ask, “Who is this broad?” I must be getting soft, but I like it! This is not to say that everything everyone in the box does is a direct reflection on me. Or that there will never be any disagreement on anything other than low-bar vs. high-bar back squats (or of course none at all until you have a rockin' FS), but the collective spirit of encouragement, of understanding, of trust and the beauty of seeking self-improvement and expecting good from others, is something I don’t mind belonging to. We expect our programming to make us stronger, faster, meaner and leaner, but the “happiness felt in a secure relationship” that is belonging, comes from met-con, strength and people. At CrossFit Palo Alto, we just call it STRENF.

A couple years ago I was a stage hand in a production made up entirely of Irving Berlin music. Good stuff. (Are you fond of hunting, dear?) You might be familiar with “White Christmas” (Snow, snow, snow, snow)? Anyway, I digress. The lyrics to one song go, “when I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep…” And I just wanted to say that the sense of belonging I find at CrossFit Palo Alto is one of those blessings for me. And I appreciate all of you who have shared that with me.

How’s that for sensitive? Now let’s talk barbells.


  1. Love. Love. Love it. You are an awesome addition to any community, Trish. And I'm so glad that you have chosen ours.