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Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Sense of Belonging



Once again I am ruminating about the sense of belonging. It seems to me that I've spent a great deal of my life trying to really feel convinced that I belong. But what does that mean, really? As far as I can recall, it had to do with identifying with a group of people, and interacting with those people in a recognizable place. As someone who moved a lot, and as someone whose biological father was not present for the first 17 years, a sense of belonging was not something I had a firm grasp on. That's not to say I didn't ever feel that I belonged; it's just that it was enough of an issue to cause me some definite pain. Did I belong in Toronto with my mother's side of the family? Or out west, near my uncle and cousins and, eventually, my father and sisters? What about my friends? How did I carve out the substance of my identity? All of these questions (and more) generally went unanswered with any lasting measure of satisfaction.

I thought I could find that sense by getting married, having children, being part of a church, dressing a certain way, speaking a certain way, living a certain way. Sometimes I felt like maybe I was starting to get there, but if I looked at it too hard, it would slip out of my grasp. At times it felt like a real crisis. Of course, now I feel an unbelievably grounded sense of belonging with Warren, and I am eternally grateful for the connection and partnership that we've found. 

I don't know what I feel about this tribal yearning anymore. In fact, I am starting to consider that it doesn't actually exist in the way I have traditionally projected.

Our time on this planet is so cyclic and ephemeral. Still, I'm absolutely convinced that connection to our environment and to others around us is innnate and undeniable and something to be validated. There's a reason we miss our loved ones when we're far from them or when they die. There's a reason we keep using social networking sites, despite their foibles, to hear and to be heard. There's a reason we need to meet and to eat together and to laugh together and to feel...safe. Accepted. Valued. Seen. Heard. And that need for connection is more than just human, which is why we're so profoundly attached, to one degree or another, to our animal friends.

I'm thinking about all of this, in part, because I know I have to go back to Toronto soon to see Granny. It's a strange place for me (Toronto) because it is where I was born and raised, but I so much of my life has been lived away from it. The best friends have remained connected, thankfully, and some of my family as well. But the last time I lived there I was the most depressed I think I have ever been. In a way, I was so broken while I was there—likely living with something of a functional nervous breakdown—that I am almost ashamed of the person I was in those short couple of years. How I made it through that year and a half (post-separation) I really don't know, but I'm thankul that I stumbled out the other side into more joy than I've ever known.

Everything's changed. My grandfather's not alive anymore. The house that my grandparents lived in—the house I most identified as "home"— has been sold to new owners some time ago. My friends and family that live there are not used to me being somewhere else. My Granny isn't well enough to travel and visit us anymore. Things are changing constantly. Even here, on the west coast...my uncle is gone, my father is gone, my kids are getting older and are on the cusp of leaving the nest, right when I have the most happiness and stability I've ever had. I can't help but wish I'd been happier and more stable for their whole childhood. 

Recently, when we went to see "The Hobbit", the line that kicked me in the chest the hardest was when Bilbo said to the dwarves:  "I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, and my arm chair, and my garden. See, that's where I belong; that's home, and that's why I came cause you don't have one...a home. It was taken from you, but I will help you take it back if I can." And during Les Miserables earlier this week, my heart broke seeing Marius sing "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables", and moved me even more than "I Dreamed a Dream". The final scene, the very final scene, elicited the same response. Total yearning, and hot, achey tears. 

I am tempted to fear the eye-rolling of those who would read what I write here, because these are somewhat cynical times. But as much as I dislike this saying, all I can say in response is this: It is what it is.  

None of this is to complain or to whine or to elicit attention or pity. It's just something of a public exploration of what it means to feel a sense of belonging. I wonder, to what degree others that I know feel it? Just last night a friend shared with us their experience of not being heard or seen clearly by their family based on blinders and cultural and behavioural expectations. This person does not live a radically weird life at all; they just live differently than their immediate family would ideally endorse. I could see that this realization pained him and it pained me to see it, but I recognized something in what he was sharing.

There are limits of understanding between family members, friends, neighbours, coworkers, lovers, and spouses. Sometimes it's more vivid than others. Sometimes it's barely discernible. Sometimes there are periods where maybe I forget about it and simply live without checking to see if everything's okay with where I am and who I am with.

I think of the people in my life—the ones I've known for decades as well as the ones I've known for weeks and months—and the best answer I can come up with for making peace with the things that give me a sense of separateness or loneliness or misunderstanding or disconnection is to (a) make sure that I'm feeling as well as can be within myself on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level and (b) to simply appreciate others, keeping an outward focus, and (c) to see and hear and validate others the way I wish to be seen and heard and validated. To love. To operate in grace, transparency, patience, and gratitude.

Anyway, this wasn't so much meant to be an emo-type rant of any sort, and I do hope that anyone reading it doesn't take it as such. I'm writing this to get my thoughts straight. I'm sharing this because I really do want to reach out to the people I have contact with, be it virtual or long-distance or local, and say that you matter to me. And I think that I'm starting to feel at home in Victoria, as expensive and unfamiliar and, at times, unusual and imperfect as it is. 

I look forward to a new year of strengthening relationships, to learning, to making valuable contributions to my community, to make active memories with friends and family and other loved ones, and to ultimately feel more connected and relevant. Plant a garden once and for all. Maybe even share some of what I grow with friends and neighbours. 

What gives you a sense of belonging?