It was that season. The crisp Maine air chilled faces that fall I traveled to Puerto Morelos, leaves crunched underfoot at home. In October I flew to the Yucatan Peninsula for a writing retreat with women I called “my writing tribe.” We stretched in yoga at dawn with other sunrise-watchers. Then Maria, a local chef, cooked breakfast; home-made tortillas, eggs, tomato and avocado, with a side of mango or papaya. Local food. She taught us one or two of her favorite songs.
We bonded through writing stories together. With common purpose, we relaxed into community quickly, easily. After hours in Mexico, we felt our place in “our” group. After days, we were buying and wearing shirts of deep Mexican gold, like uniforms. Songs, food, clothing, colors and shared activity connected us to Caribbean culture.
Some of us checked messages nightly. Husbands wrote, “Sox won tonight.” Or “Patriots lost today.”
We’d chuckle. We had settled far away from Red Sox Nation and football fervor. We had aligned with “our” clan in Paradise. We’d joke, ”Phew. Good to know. Now we can sleep.”
After our return, one friend and I texted each other the first words our husbands spoke in the morning, “Sox pulled it off last night,” or “Brady broke a record yesterday.”
All in good fun. Again, we’d chuckle. But there is something serious—maybe visceral– about loyalty, about identifying with a group, first in families, then perhaps to a religion, or a neighborhood, then maybe to teams. We start by rooting for kids we know: for my brother and his little league team. As human beings, we grow in connection. So, with maturing, we cheer on our high school boyfriend’s soccer team, then our daughter’s soccer team, then a granddaughter’s diving team. As homo sapiens, we link with those we love. It’s primeval.
I’m curious, though, about how we use personal pronouns for teams of people we don’t know. Sociologists tell us that a sense of goodwill comes with being a fan and has ripple effects into all aspects of living. I want to understand that; how sports enthusiasts suffer depression if “they crushed us,” how emotions lift when “we beat those bums.”
Who is “we”? How do we Mainers come to call players “us” whose names we can’t pronounce from countries we’ve never visited, and whom we’d call strangers? Many of us glued ourselves to TV with the hoopla over Tom Brady trotting into Gillette Stadium as a Buccaneer. We love him, we hate him or both. We lock elbows with others who love him, hate him or both. What is that?
Weeks ago, most of us crossed fingers for the Red Sox, hoping for a wild card spot. We’ve loved them and attended games wearing their colors, like uniforms. We sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “Sweet Caroline” at the 7th inning stretch. We eat Fenway Franks, local food. Songs, food, clothing, colors and shared activity connect us to sports culture.
Something instinctive ignites in us when we feel joined with something outside of us, when we merge with and become part of something greater than our individuality. Maybe feel-good hormones fire happy neurons when we feel “I’m one of us. I fit in here with other like-minded people who fit in here too.”
Psychologists know that a sense of belonging, of community, of connection— whether as churchgoers, football fans, baseball buffs, writers, yogis, walkers, sunrise gazers, etc.– lifts moods, uplevels our neurobiology. Haven’t people traveled in tribes since we hung out in caves? The longing for belonging is ancestral.