Years ago, while grabbing a bite to eat in a well-known pub just outside Boston’s famed Fenway Park, I got up to use the restroom and caught sight of one of my cousins.
This might not seem particularly odd, except for the fact that neither of us lived anywhere near Boston, nor did we visit that city often (in my case, that was the only time I’d ever been). We laughed and hugged, delighted at the coincidence, the sheer luck of bumping into each other in a city of nearly 700,000 people.
Fast forward 20 years, and the story is a bit different. Having lived in a rural community for nearly two decades, it is something I now take for granted: no matter where I go — grocery store, work assignment, picking up take-out — I will see someone I know.
To say that I have come to love this would be an understatement.
During a childhood marked by several moves up and down the East Coast, the idea of being an outsider — of knowing no one and having no one know you — became a recognizable, albeit never enjoyable, fact of life.
Every community has its stories, its quirks and its own unique sense of place, all birthrights understandably taken for granted by those who have always called that place home. Experience also teaches that some people are gracious and welcoming to newcomers, some less so: For the graduation ceremony of the small school where I went for seventh and eighth grade, someone thought it would be good to have one cake for all the kids who had been there the whole time and one for the rest of us, our outsider status writ large in blue icing.
As people have known since there were people to know it, the need to belong somewhere — to have a community where one is known, accepted and welcomed — is a nearly universal desire.
I still don’t take for granted the pleasure of knowing most of my neighbors, or of running into my husband’s great uncle when I am picking up dry cleaning. I know as well as anyone that being part of a community is a gift, one that not everyone is blessed to enjoy.
As was once said about another famous Boston bar, sometimes you really do want to be where everybody knows your name.