New Zealand, 2018

I thought I came to New Zealand to climb mountains. To climb mountains, and ponder life, and push myself, and be silent.

I kept saying I was excited to be in a country with more sheep than humans. Less time with humans.



What I found when I arrived was a young couple dancing in the kitchen on a Saturday morning, sun streaming in through the skylight like a spotlight on their joy.

What I found when I arrived was a house of flatmates who spontaneously went to the beach together when the weather was nice and they wanted to soak in the joy of being alive.

What I found when I arrived was a community of humans who communicate honestly and compassionately, and celebrate themselves and one another as if every day were the most special holiday.

For most of the first few weeks, I sat quietly to the side. Processing through my pain and emotions from a tumultuous year, yet in awe of the example of life and vitality before my eyes. I had a road map. I sat in the truth of where I was, but knew exactly where I wanted to be.

All around me, I saw my inevitable return to joy. To smiling for no reason. To using courage to speak kindness. To creating, to inspiration, to life.

And though I wasn’t there yet, a community surrounded me. They listened. They reflected. They asked about my needs. And they took care of their own needs, too. They believed in creating space for people to flourish, and knew that we flourish when we aren’t censored. They invited me into their pain and spoke fiercely and tenderly. They were open. They were joyful.

They trusted me to speak for myself and celebrated me when I did. They gave me space when I needed to be alone, every time. They invited me along, every time.

I was a stranger to them. But somehow I felt like I belonged.

Joy is possible. Laughter is possible. Beauty is possible. Belonging is possible. Do not forget this.

Belonging is not an accident. It is not something that necessarily happens with time. It is not something that we can be labeled into.

Belonging happens when we love and see ourselves so clearly that we can love and see others clearly, too. It happens when trust grows. It happens when celebration erupts.

It happens when we radically own our shit, and recognize that most of our perception of the world is a story we made up in fear. When we see that story, name that story, share that story, and let that story go, belonging is on the other side.

I saw Brene Brown speak two months ago. She said, “True belonging never says you have to change who you are. True belonging says you have to be who you are.”

The air has gotten heavy in America. There’s less laughter. Less song. Less talking-in-bad-Irish-accents-in-the-supermarket. I’ve felt guilty many times I experienced real joy this past year, knowing that so many are in pain. It felt like laughing at a funeral. Ebullience, lost.

I feel anxious when I think about coming back to that.

When I arrived in New Zealand, it took me three full weeks to let go of my sadness. It took me three full weeks of dipping my toes in the water to finally cannonball straight into joy. And belonging.

But I also feel hope.

I feel hope because I know what joy and belonging do. Joy and belonging are the difference between a crisis and an adventure. They render the world beautiful, even in pain. They offer us meaning, even in confusion.

Joy and belonging are available to us. Anytime you have words to speak and ears to hear. Anytime you remember light, and compassion, and genuine kindness. They come like a wave on the ocean, washing over us with grace and relief. “Oh. There is another way of living. It doesn’t have to feel like this.”

They are like the sun. Even on a cloudy day, the sun is still there, shining. We do not have to ask it to shine, to pay for it to shine, to worry about its disappearance. We simply have to remember that it is there.

I came to New Zealand to climb mountains. I guess I did.



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