Building belonging in global transitions
The door opens on a black space to let the artist come into the light. As he passes from dark to light, the loud murmurs of human voices quickly quiet down. I can’t hear his fast-paced steps from my seat, but I can feel the hard wooden floor responding to his feet as if they were mine. He reaches the center of the stage in a few seconds. The door is now closed behind him: He’s left alone with his instrument and a crowd holding their breath while staring at him. The black-varnished Steinway shines back like a mirror to the golden tones of the room. His arena is a giant golden box with a piano for a ring and his body for the ballerina. The artist’s fingers are about to touch their first keys, and it all rushes back to me.
I remember the diaphragmatic breathing and priming rituals backstage, the hurry to go to the bathroom as the time to perform approaches, the racing heartbeats, the self-talks and reviewing my score one last time, the final warmup, water drinking and clearing of the voice, the fire in the stomach while mentally welcoming the rush of adrenaline, and my spiritual alignment with the divine to be the best medium I can be for my audience.
We’re in Carnegie Hall and I know this stage personally from an opera singer’s standpoint. My life before the pandemic feels like an entire lifetime ago. To deliver on stage in the spotlight what I anxiously rehearsed and practiced in the shadow: that was my life’s purpose before. Before the Covid pandemic. Before becoming a mom.
The artist’s fingers now run on the piano. I ponder on how I currently translate my being in this new world we live in and this new world of mine. I haven’t hit a stage in almost 3 years now.
What do we become when the world turns upside down?
The sound of the piano stops between the short melodic stories that the artist carefully memorized in his body and mind. Every time his hands lose contact with his instrument, I can feel the presence of the stage even more. I miss it. I miss the preparation. I miss the adrenaline. I miss the challenge. I miss people so much.
My operatic journey was always about giving meaning to my existence. It was about the human experience, sharing with other artists, and giving and receiving to and from the audience. It’s funny to think that even though I dedicated so many years of my life to opera, it’s not the opera that I miss. No, it’s the feeling of belonging.
The pianist pauses. I appreciate the silence between the notes. For an instant, I can feel that I belong. As the sound vanishes, I sense the tension, a hold in space and in time. A floating sensation comparable to a jump before you hit the ground, but quieter and deeper. Between the notes, between the sounds, we’re floating together in the unknown. We’re resonating, as defined by resonance (a phenomenon in which a vibrating system forces another around it to vibrate with greater amplitude at a specified frequency). Being together (resonating) between the previous sound and the next one is a very known feeling to me: The feeling of belonging.
The pianist continues to take us through melodic stories while I relax with my old self for a bit. His silent footsteps talked to me so much.
I ran away my entire life until I came to New York for the first time. It was in 2014, and as I stood in my Canadian winter coat between midtown’s skyscrapers, I got caught by surprise. I felt at home. I could argue that I feel at home in nature, discuss the inner cathedral within us that is our true home, and share about finding a home in a partner. All of these are very real. But when I arrived in New York, I knew no one, and yet, far from my beloved wildlife, I felt at home for the first time in the sense that I felt free, I felt accepted, and I felt seen. Over the years I realized that it had little to do with a home and everything to do with the feeling of belonging.
Despite being a native of France, I didn’t feel like I fully belonged anywhere for a long time. I moved around a lot and I was more familiar with card boxes and changing schools every year than with a particular town or group of people. It was only when I started my vocal training at age 12 in Belgium that I could imagine finding a family in the opera industry someday. I was seduced by the international dimension and the passion, playfulness, and togetherness that came with performing arts. I can’t say I found what I was hoping for when I chose to sing professionally. But New York did reply to me in how New Yorkers allowed themselves and others to be their unconventional unique selves.
Fast forward to 2022, the isolating experience of the pandemic has highlighted to everyone that belonging is not only essential to our very own well-being, but to our society and therefore to organizations’ success. Big companies were hit hard by the great resignation as everyone reassessed their individual emotional needs. People started to think more about what they wanted out of their lifetime and most of us revised our copy: we chose to prioritize personal growth, love, fun, meaningful projects, and safety (not necessarily in that order). But the pandemic also highlighted our strong interdependency and co-dependency both as individuals and as a society. In short, we can’t do it alone. If we want happiness and a legacy, we have no choice but to create an environment that is safe, welcoming, relatable, and inspiring in our home (literally this time) and within our organizations. For the sake of humanity, some of us have to lead the way to further cohesion, fulfillment, and success.
Building belonging comes with making space for everyone’s spice and creativity, promoting acceptance and compassion, creating opportunities for playfulness, and reuniting everyone around a meaningful goal. If you think of performing arts as a parallel, what makes a successful production is that everyone puts their efforts into both their individual and the production’s success while investing in their unique talents for a (hopefully) mind-blowing experience.
Let’s face it, we’ve all crashed through one or two walls (or more) in the past couple of years. Whatever you’ve been through, your world is gone and you need to find ways to translate your being (your innate essence and your acquired experience) into the new world you live in and this new world of yours. The door is now closed behind you. The door is closed behind all of us.
The challenges are real, especially while so many of us still work from home and meet virtually. Major companies (in particular those specializing in either technology or consulting) are investigating a response through the metaverse. Will the metaverse be the reply we seek in a post-pandemic world? It’s up to us to make it so.