I spent the first week of June in a chalet (and teepee) in the French Alps with 20 strangers, and yet today after just one week with them, I hope I know them for a lifetime. On the car ride to the airport this morning I was feeling both extremely grateful, and genuinely sad.

I hopped out of the car, said goodbye to one of my new friends and the chalet owner, found my gate, and completed my first short flight to Amsterdam without incident (unless drooling on my shirt counts...). I then picked up Stroopwafels for the kids (or for me - whatever), and found my second flight. The short story here is that I was busy "doing" and therefore not listening to my inner self.

As I settled in on my final flight home, I decided to watch A Wrinkle in Time. (Still not connected... I was distracting myself.) At the very end of the movie - after an epic adventure to rescue their father from an evil entity - one of the main characters says to his family, “I have a new word for the day... home”. I got really teary, and was aware of feeling grief; a deep sense of sadness and loss. And it hit me: I missed my new friends.

This past week I experienced a connection to a group of people that felt like the best version of home — where love and acceptance were abundant, questions were asked with genuine curiosity and the extension of goodwill, listening and patience were commonplace, and truth was shared with the greatest respect and lack of judgment. I felt a sense of connection and belonging.

Belonging wasn’t based on performance or perfection. It wasn’t based on looks or income or thinking/acting/being alike. It was based on choice; we all chose to connect and create a community where everyone felt cared for, and was seen and known.    

We were different in ways that were complex and fascinating - there were permutations of personality, gender, ethnicity, race, spiritual practices, age, native language, partner and parenting status, business types and stages of ownership, level of  risk-tolerance, and ideas about what we wanted out of the week. And we were similar in ways that were unifying and comforting like seeking growth both personally and professionally, desiring to share our expertise where/when it was actually helpful, wanting to learn from each other, asking for help while feeling lost and a bit overwhelmed at times, feeling uncertain about the future, and truly wanting to make a positive impact through our lives and work.

We shared experiences like hiking up mountains and mindful meditation, white-water rafting, and e-biking. We told stories of both joyful and sad events that have shaped our lives - and so we also laughed and cried together. We ate, swam, “hot-tubbed,” and danced together - and showed pictures of kids, pets and other things that we love.

For a week, we spent our waking hours sharing our lives with one another. I believe that if any one of us were visiting each other’s home country - even if we hadn’t talked in a year - we could still WhatsApp each other and be welcomed into each other’s homes.    

As I finish writing this, I am aware of how both the feelings of gratitude and grief can exist in the same place at the same time, and both are the end result of my Alptitude experience. Thank you to my new tribe for the gifts of acceptance, love, generosity, safety, truth, learning, laughter, healing, and ultimately belonging. I felt, with you, like I was home.