This is what Ayako Nakajima, our Japanese teacher told me as we looked out at the red maple-covered hills, our first autumn in Japan. Aki ha omoi. Perhaps she sensed that the golden light of autumn was flooding me with memories of a home that seemed so far away. Are you sometimes overwhelmed with memories in autumn?
This week, on a glistening autumn day, I remembered someone in our church teen group in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Autumn was the most beautiful season. The huge Dutch Elm trees formed a brilliant arch through which I raced on my bicycle. The face I remember wore bright red lipstick and smudged eye makeup. And when I conjure her face, I feel a tug at my heart.
Looking back, I see much that I didn’t see then. I see that she was looking for belonging in our teen group. Even though from the outside, I certainly appeared to belong, I didn’t feel it. And since I didn’t feel it, I didn’t extend belonging to that girl. Looking back, I regret that I did not give her what I wanted: kindness and welcome. Looking back, do you have regrets?
As Unitarian Universalists, we can get so wrapped up in justice or getting our committee work done that we forget to be kind. We can forget, as I did, to extend a sense of belonging. In Rev. Sarah’s envisioning workshop and at our community chats, you have brought up the importance of our welcome.
Kathleen, Tracy, and I have been working on the structure of how we welcome new people to Granite Peak. Soon, we will be spiffing up our outer and inner spaces. That is all-important. And more important than any of that is how each of us extends kindness and an invitation to belong. No structure or new carpet will substitute for that.
After my parents died in an accident, my siblings and I learned about all of the ordinary kindnesses they brought to their neighbors. One neighbor dependedon my mother to send off and welcome home her special needs child at the neighborhood bus stop. As I have come to know you, I have seen the many kindnesses that you extend to the greater community, to your neighbors, and to each other. I have seen how the pantry volunteers are extending belonging to the people who visit our pantry.
On sparkling autumn afternoons, I also remember those who extended kindness to me. Unexpectedly. A hand on my arm. Words of forgiveness and grace. These are important building blocks for that aspirational place, Beloved Community. As we ponder our inner and outer welcome, may we build these structures on a foundation of kindness. That will make the Granite Peak UU Congregation a beacon in a storm. We will be a place that nurtures belonging.