I spent this afternoon in a riverside pub with three friends and a big group of strangers, to watch England play Germany in the World Cup. I don't *do* football but somehow have allowed myself to be swept along this time by the enthusiasm of friends and colleagues, alongside that little bit of hope I have that it'll give me a sense of belonging.
I'll be honest, I don't understand half of what's going on but football fans are only too willing to indulge my questions, explaining about penalties, the point-scoring system and who the players are. That's the thing about enthusiasts - they love what they love so much that they'll gladly pull you in and make you welcome in the hope that you'll love it, too, so that they can share it with you and make you a part of their "family".
A hundred or so people crowded around a TV screen in the back room of a pub, on a hot day, connected by our support for our team. Each of us sharing, in varying degrees, the joys and disappointments of the game. When England scored I was genuinely pleased, not least to sense the joy of those around me. I felt frustration and disappointment at our disallowed goal (seriously, WTF happened there?!) and I shared a bit of the pain of those around me when Germany scored (all four times...) And I knew that millions and millions of people the world over were also sharing this with us.
Some of us were texting friends about the game, some were updating Facebook and Twitter and some of us made friends with strangers in the pub - how this game brings us together! And what struck me was, the more people shared and connected, the better it felt: it doesn't become diluted by sharing, on the contrary, it becomes stronger.
While the game was on, the world kept turning, shit happened like it always does, but we forgot about all that for a couple of hours, because we were supporting something that we were a part of. And we didn't win, far from it, but we were united in our defeat and, because of that, none of us were alone. How comforting.
I wonder, how can we apply this outside of football? What can we do to recreate and maintain this community, friendship and support long after the World Cup is over?
We're all a part of something: a flatshare, a family, a workplace, a group of friends, an exercise class... What is each of us actively doing to create a community of friendship and support?
In London, as in most cities, it's easier to go about our business without a thought for or acknowledgement of the next person, particularly as life is so fast-paced. But if we can take a moment to reach out with kindness and friendliness, especially to those we don't know, maybe we could be the force to change the cycle for the better and help to create a community similar to that I saw in the pub this afternoon.