The need to belong is a basic human experience. We all want to know that somewhere in the world is a place and a group of people we can call home, even if the location and group are virtual and not concrete. Sometimes the need can be visceral, raw and deep. When the need is unfulfilled, it is devastating and self negating—we feel less of who we are because there is nothing to which we belong. And when our need to belong is met, there is no feeling that compares. It's chocolate melting in your mouth, a warm puppy in your arms, the soothing balm of ice on a burn, winning the lottery and fitting into your skinny jeans all rolled into one. Today, and not for the last time I'm sure, my thoughts are inspired by JR Ward and her Black Dagger Brotherhood, which I'm listening to while I read a new author, Robin Hobb (whose works I'll be writing about in the future). I'm listening to Book 2 of the BDB, Lover Eternal (the only thing I dislike about these books are the ridiculous titles-- I should look to see if Ms. Ward is published by the same house as Nalini Singh, who gets the prize for silly titles). The theme of belonging and what it means for individuality and it's expression, the ability to be independent, and the condition of being whole and complete is woven through all of the BDB books, in a myriad of ways, from belonging to a specific race, culture, or sub-culture, to a soul mate, and to a larger societal group or caste. It must be a subject about which Ms. Ward has given a great deal of thought, because she writes about it so profoundly.
As its name suggests, the Black Dagger Brotherhood is just that, a brotherhood of individuals, at first only males, but later expanded to include females. As I'm reading the books devoted to the original six Brothers right now, I'll keep my references masculine for this post. These guys are tight, in the way that only centuries together and a combat group mentality could make them. The group has been forged in the crucible of battle against a common enemy. Moreover, their service to their people (civilian vampires, just in case you were wondering, cause it's all about those fangs for me, never mind the bass) has made them a breed apart--outsiders to their own kind. Which makes belonging to the group that much more powerful.
The Black Dagger Brotherhood is a cohesive, homogenous unit. But it’s comprised of beings who could not be more diverse, which is an interesting phenomenon. The group nurtures the Brothers’ individuality in a healthy way. Each of the brothers is not only allowed but encouraged to be who they are, knowing that their brothers will tolerate their idiosyncrasies, tread lightly around the damage caused by their troubled pasts, and protect their vulnerabilities. As brothers by choice and not biology (except for one set of twins), these males know that their triumphs will be celebrated and their achievements recognized. It’s the best kind of family—the one we choose (which doesn’t, of course, preclude a blood connection but doesn’t require one).
The group we belong to should be a support network, a safety net, and provide the confidence of knowing that someone, or more than a few someones, are always going to have your back. When we feel safe and supported, we can do anything. And because the group is more than the sum of its parts, the individual components, the members, are stronger, better than they otherwise would be. That is the best part of belonging, at least in my book.
I suspect that JR Ward knows a thing or two about the need to belong and perhaps what it feels like not to have that. There is no way she could write so convincingly of the longing of the lonely-hearted if she didn’t have some experience in that area. I can relate, though I wish I couldn’t. I spent the better part of my childhood feeling like an outsider—within my family, at school, with boys my own age, with life in general. Sometimes feeling like we don’t belong has more to do with the chaos in our heads—chaos that we’re sure no one else feels. And many of us grow out of that phase—thinking we are terminally unique and that no one else in the world feels as we do. And we realize that our outcast status is a self-inflicted wound that we can cauterize at will. But then there are the poor unfortunates out there who never quite figure out that we are all struggling, and that we are all insecure, and that there is no imperative to remain on the outside. We can all belong, simply by virtue of letting our humanity out and showing ourselves to our fellows.
Groucho Marx famously said that he wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have him as a member. I don't believe that. I want to belong. I want to know that there are people in the world who love me, have my back, and want me to succeed beyond my wildest dreams. Do you think maybe I can join the Black Dagger Brotherhood? Actually, I don’t need to. I am fortunate enough to belong in many different ways. I have my family, my social circle, my faith community, and the group of writers and readers I’ve met through my work and my interests. I am, therefore I belong. We all do.