“I belong, I know I belong because I am here”
All it took was four words—four simple words on a piece of cardboard—to transform an anxious and uncomfortable experience into an easygoing one instead. On a recent road trip, I encountered these four transformative words, and they changed my way of thinking about where I belong in life.
I never stay in Airbnb rentals. Maybe twice I have stayed in a bed-and-breakfast. I tend to stick to hotels so I won’t be at the mercy of a private homeowner who can cancel my reservation or ask me to leave, with little recourse. So when my husband and I drove along the winding roads in upstate New York toward our bed-and-breakfast, I noticed a familiar tightening in my chest. I quickly tried to chase away the fear and focus on remaining positive and excited to spend the weekend celebrating my nephew’s graduation from college.
Yet the further we drove, the tightness grew and the familiar questions began. Would I get the looks I have experienced my entire life when people are not expecting to see a black person? Would I belong here? Would me and my husband be welcomed? Needless to say, my anxiety only heightened as we turned onto the long gravel driveway, gradually making our way to the farmhouse.
The answers to those haunting questions arrived on a small, brightly colored sign posted in front of the yellow house. All Are Welcome Here. Those four words on the sign changed everything. I knew instantly that I belonged, that I would be welcomed and that I would be treated with respect and dignity. I felt such relief. I smiled to myself and said to my husband, “This is going to be a good weekend.”
The next day I spoke to Rosemary, the owner of Saratoga Farmstead. I told her of my nervousness about staying in bed-and-breakfasts because I am a black woman. I never know if my presence will be met with openness or with obvious uncomfortable interactions. I explained that her sign transformed my trepidation into an immediate sense of comfort with her house and its surroundings. I felt as if I belonged. I thanked her for her willingness to set an intention of belonging around her business and farm.
Since that day I have begun a practice of imagining that sign posted outside of every place I visit—every house, store, restaurant or park—so I feel like I belong.
It is a practice that aligns with the “I Belong Declaration” discussed in the 7 laws of enough: “Whenever you find yourself thinking that you are different, that you don’t belong, or that you are an imposter, this simple declaration practiced over time can make a difference. Regardless of the circumstance—meeting, dinner party, job interview—silently repeat the phrase: ‘I belong, I know I belong because I am here.'”
“All are welcome here” travels with me wherever I go now. Join me in declaring that you belong too.