A Sense of Belonging

I was watching Invincible Friday afternoon because my mood lately has been a prime mood for what Disney Plus classifies as an inspirational sports movie. Invincible is the story of Vince Papale, a bartender from south Philly who goes to open tryouts for the Eagles and makes the team. A lot of the movie is about how much south Philly needed him and the Eagles during a time when factory workers were striking and out of a job. The depiction of south Philly and the camaraderie there reminded me of a couple of TV shows I have watched.

Back when Justified was on TV I found myself watching the scenes in eastern Kentucky with longing. The scenes that gave me the sense of longing were generally the ones of the large, extended families being together on the family land. These families were generally criminals. I assumed that the longing was more for the state of Kentucky and not a longing to be part of a criminal family.

That assumption fell apart when I watched Shameless and felt the same thing. Shameless is about a family who lives on the South Side of Chicago. They have a lot of problems and have no problem with breaking the law to get what they want. Did my sense of longing actually mean I wanted to be in a family of criminals? It did not.

What these three have in common is the portrayal of a sense of community and belonging. This sense of community and belonging survived economic turmoil and criminal enterprise. The characters lacked financial stability and, in some cases, morals, but they had a place where they belonged. They had family and friends who stood by them in the tough times. They had a circle of support. They had community.

My longing didn’t come from a desire to be a criminal, it came from a desire for community. The suburban sprawl where I live can make community hard, especially when you are not a people person. I wrote recently about how I had a yearning for home. I have no family here besides my wife and kids. I can be out and about in my area and never see one person I know. I don’t really know my neighbors. I spend the majority of my time at home with whoever is living in the house at the time. I want the sense of community you can find in some small towns and neighborhoods. It is harder to find here.

I know there are things I could do to change this. I had a sense of community for a while at my old church. I worked with the youth group and felt a connection to them, their families and the other youth workers. Things changed and I changed churches and have not made the effort to really feel like I belong there. I could change that. I felt a sense of community during some youth sports and dance. Those are gone now that the kids are adults.

I am impressed with the fact that these shows did such a good job with a sense of place and belonging that it made me want to live there.

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