. 3 min read

This morning I ran laps like I usually do, with Whit, just before sun-up on a lighted gravel walking path near the house. There's an older man who runs most mornings too. He has a white beard that stops at his midchest, he wears compression sleeves on both his knees, he's probably in his late 60s, early 70s, we call him Santa, because of the beard and the age. He waves at us and says "Good mornin', girls" every time we pass him. He runs with two ladies, maybe his sister and a friend? Wife and a friend? Not sure, I don't know their names, but they're kind and we know each other by our vehicles, paces, gait patterns, running and walking partners, our breathless acknowledgments, even our brightly colored athletic headbands, just not by name.

There's a quiet camaraderie between all the early morning regulars on the running path. Whit and I are the youngest runners by a stretch, our track feels safe and familiar, not because of the lampposts and familiar terrain, but because of the nameless community gathered there for a common purpose. We don't know each other properly, but we are all of a kind. The kind who like to run around outside in circles early in the morning.

This morning I heard Santa, in his southern drawl, deep in conversation with his running partner, say the word, "kinfolk," he said it in a way that sounded endearing, like he was gloating on or worrying about his nearest and dearest. The word drifted back on the wind from the way his head was turned to the side, I didn't hear anything else. It's not a word I hear very often. Kinfolk.

Kinfolk is a word that means more than just blood relatives to me. It's any tribe I belong to. Tribe is a buzzword these days, it can mean the people in our ideological bunker, it can mean the people we share the story behind the instastory with. For me, it means what "kindred spirits" meant for Anne in L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. Someone to genuinely share everything with, the deepest, squishiest, most ridiculous parts of yourself.

Kinfolk, Kindred, of a kind. That kindness, kindred, and kinfolk share a root word of "natural, native"—kindness begins with recognizing our likeness, a fact that writer Glennon Doyle recognizes in her mantra:

we belong to each other.

We're all each other's kinfolk. We belong to each other. Even the people I don't agree with, maybe especially them. All my neighbors, on the other side of the track, on the other side of the world.

I believe we are more alike than we are different. More divinely connected than disconnected.

I follow a Muslim homeschool mom on Instagram, she lives in Nigeria. She and her son tried broccoli for the first time, in the spirit of trying global cuisine, they hated it. "Did I cook this right? I seasoned it like I normally would. It just tastes...bad" she asked. We've done the same thing. Tried to eat our way around the globe and ended up in memorable failure.

Anne says, "Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world."

Kinfolk. Of a kind. We belong to each other.

In the early morning, I rise early to run with my kinfolk, who are all different sizes, colors, from all kind of walks of life I don't even know.

I'm just beginning to say "good mornin'" to them, learn their names, and cheer them on when they lap me. I did that this morning to a sporty woman in her forties, both arms upraised, with a great big hoot and holler that's quite startling in the early morning. The first time she was taken aback and demurred. The second time she said, "I'm doing intervals. It's HARD," like it was a secret we shared.

This is how I want to approach the world. With kindness and lots of cheering.

Sort of like Santa.