We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. ― Maya Angelou, The Complete Collected Poems
I will never forget standing outside of what was called a Pioneer Palace in former Soviet Ukraine. I was 14 and a child of the Cold War. All the bad guys in American movies were Russian and I knew very little about Soviet culture. World Power politics and the threat of nuclear war colored my perceptions. It wasn’t until this fabled moment when I was standing outside of school with children my age, talking, singing, laughing and complaining about homework, that I realized we are more alike than we are unalike. With the Black Sea lapping in the distance, I vowed to try to find common ground wherever I traveled in the future. I knew if the Super Powers couldn’t block this moment of connection than the true power was in the connection itself.
This past weekend, we stumbled upon kids surfing competition. Initially, I was thinking of how different it was from soccer Sunday’s of my past life. Parents were bikini-clad and shirtless, watching their kids on a world-class surf break, eating tropical fruit. I had flashbacks to bundling my kids in every layer we owned as we ventured to community fields, passing dripping apple trees on crisp fall days. I could not help but think of home and how far away it felt standing on the North Shore. As time passed, something magical happened …
Our kids started to play with the competitors’ siblings that were hanging out on the shore.
We watched parents try to coach from the “sidelines,” their voices muffled by the breaking waves.
Grandparents sat in camping chairs under sports tents bouncing passing toddles on their knees.
We saw coaches debrief as frustrated or elated competitors paddled back to shore.
We held our breath as the waves loomed, and cheered as the surfers tackled them one at a time graceful in their success and defeat.
Eventually, as the sun started to drop in the sky, and the announcer was reading the results, I watched our kids run to high-five participants with the “good game” gusto of their past soccer Sundays. I realized as the hours passed that we stayed long enough to experience more common ground than not. We stayed long enough to feel at home.
As the kids dined on Spam musubi with their new friends, I realized that celebrating differences comes easily once the common ground is established. I also realized that common ground can’t be forced or rushed. Creating moments of authentic connection is something that felt so natural at age 14 but became harder amidst the busyness of my adult life. It feels good to come into that knowing again.