I know that the times in my life where I have been the happiest and the most content have always been during times of being part of a community. When I was growing up, I was a cheerleader. I know it is hard to believe but in the 7th and 8th grades, I wore a skirt and shin kickers. But I also remember that during that time I felt the most awkward — growing up among all boys. When I was with the cheerleaders, there was a sense of belonging and acceptance — as much as 7th and 8th graders can.

Then there was Puerto Rico and the five team sports I played. Our basketball team was probably the closest-knit group. But military life was in itself a community. We all lived in the same square 4 miles, shopped at the same stores, and went to the MWR for recreational activities. And don’t get me started on the teen center and all the dancing and disco music. The teen center was the place where all of us hung out and grew up together.

Softball Practice in Puerto Rico

Later I joined the Air Force (AFROTC) and the cadets were my community. We went to class together, to training camp together, and many of our social events were with other cadets — the drill team, volunteer groups, and intramural sports. Then I became a military spouse. Military life as a spouse was an incredibly close group. My best friend Lisa was there whenever I needed her. We were always together — social events, monthly meetings, and our spouses worked together so we often had dinners together. This sense of community does a lot for your sense of well-being. It forms your beliefs and social norms. And when it is gone, there is a great sense of loss, lack of connectedness.

After I divorced, the military community that I had known for over 17 years was gone. Not only did I lose most of the friends that I had known as part of a couple, but the formal community and life on a military base were gone. I struggled to find that place where I could call home; where people knew me well and welcomed me. Of course, we feel a sense of community at work — well most of the time. A few of the jobs I worked in had that great sense of belonging: NASA, NIH, and ARC. One of the best things as a former military brat has been to connect with all of these communities and great friends that I have known over the years on Facebook. I really miss all of you!

The karate dojo was an incredibly strong community of people challenging their bodies and minds and developing discipline and well-being. And of course, the two softball teams that I play on now. It’s our third year playing together. Their friendships, verbal banter, wins, and losses mean the world to me. And if I am speaking of community, I also have to mention all the wonderful people I have had the chance to meet and be colleagues with at HDI. Being a speaker, contributing to helping others learn and celebrate their profession — it creates an amazing sense of gratitude.

Photo collage from Karate

What is it that creates that sense of well-being? It is a lot of things. People know who we are, they know about our lives. But more importantly, we are accepted because we have something in common — something that binds us to each other. I know that playing softball has very much provided common ground for 20– 50-year-olds to get together once a week for the love of the game and camaraderie.

I was sitting the other day watching my dogs play in the backyard. I had this overwhelming feeling of contentment. It’s not to say that things are not challenging. Everyday life brings something new to my life that challenges me. But this IS my life. And even with the occasional chaotic moments, I choose to see those challenges as part of the journey. When I ask myself, why is it that I don’t feel overwhelmed? It is because I am strongly rooted in a community. Without those roots, the chaos would quickly seem like it is more than I can handle.

And of course, you can’t mention community and not mention family. When you have a strong and connected family, it creates the basis for well-being throughout your life. My parents, even though they divorced, provided an incredibly safe and loving environment. I know my siblings would be there for me if I ever need them. My children are amazing and incredibly supportive of me. I have never lacked for love or understanding.

Roots can be just a single tree, existing in the same field for years. But they can also be like mine — roots of many trees throughout my life. One thing is for sure, without the strength of my community, my life would have turned out much differently. I am thankful for my friends, my family, and all the incredible people I meet along the way. I am strong in life because of you.

And I just had to say thanks.