As I begin collecting my thoughts and reminiscences to initiate my launch at writing a memoir, one of the more engaging questions I have asked myself is where I have truly belonged (or not!) over the course of my lifetime. When we are asked what is most important to us at the end of our lives, the common answer usually centers on the importance of one’s relationships. We speak especially of family, of course, but also our appreciation for all those with whom we shared the most poignant and memorable experiences in our lives, relationships where we belonged because they were especially familiar, secure, and authentic for us. Or simply put, belonging in large part is just being “at home” with oneself and those around us.
As I have begun to reflect on when and where I felt I most belonged, I was surprised and pleased with how many places I could remember and name. I think of my small rural town “where everyone knew my name,” for example. And I actually had a very satisfying college experience where I became comfortable with who I was and who I was becoming within the college community in those formative years. In my professional life I sustained times when I felt well placed and doing what I was meant to do for the common good and guided by a supportive community. Even in those places where I may not have expected to belong, like my three months living in a Tibetan orphanage in India, allowed me to feel so warmly accepted as an outsider. And for the better part of my adult life my affiliation with the local and wider Quaker community have continually offered me a place of belonging where I share common values and a sense of wholeness within myself and with others. And, of course, although this may not be true for all, I am deeply grateful for my family that offered me a dependable base of belonging and acceptance.
Because I have moved so many times now in my life, however, I also am aware of a sense of rootlessness, and I wonder sometimes at the end of my life where I will consider the primary place on earth where I felt I most belonged. Sometime I regrettably realize that I have not lived long enough in a particular place to really know and love the beauty and complexity it has to offer, to feel that I really belonged there. In part to rectify that negligence in the past, I am in the process of trying to better understand the interdependence of nature and wildlife here on Whidbey Island as well as its geological and anthropological history. It is indeed a wondrous place, and I am fortunate to live here. Each of you also live in a place of great awe and mystery to be explored and known, a place where you, too, can intimately belong.
During these past three years especially, belonging in community has made it possible to cope with all the political, environmental, and cultural changes that have come so quickly upon us, and continue to do so. If possible we need to belong in a community that breaks bread together, laughs together, and shares our stories. We need to feel accepted for who we are - and be willing to accept others as openly as well. When things seem to be so unstable and often threatening, we need to know we have a place where people will be there for us to counter our loneliness and fears.
I will close by asking each of you to consider joining me in the reverie of reminiscence reflecting on those cherished times in your life when you felt you most belonged. And you might ask where you feel you belong now, where you are most comfortably, securely and warmly accepted for who you authentically feel you are? In doing so, like me, you will likely find yourself ever more grateful for your communal belonging during your precious life of relationships and wonder.