Today, I’m celebrating me and another successful revolution around the sun. As I reflect on who and what I’ve become, and where I’m headed with this life that is likely – bizarrely – about half lived, I feel this strange combination of groundedness and confusion. I know more about myself than ever before, yet my sense of belonging is shaky as ever.
I’ve been feeling vaguely confused about who I am lately, particularly about where and with whom I belong. I’ve noticed myself grasping for connection and belonging time and again, and never quite getting there. And for whatever reason, I sense that today is the day for me to dig into this.
I Know Who I’m Not
I can often see with great clarity who I am not.
Of late, I need only watch the news or scroll through my social media feed for a moment to see a dozen people, policies and events that I cannot – for the life of me! – relate to or even begin to understand.
“Well, I completely disapprove of that; it’s
“I absolutely cannot understand or rationalize that; WHAT are they thinking?!
“THAT is utterly disgusting; that is not who I am and it shouldn’t be who we are.”
“That is delusional and willfully ignorant!”
It’s great to be clear on what I believe and where I decidedly do not belong. But it’s completely exhausting to judge so much and it weighs the spirit down. And I can’t help but wonder if this never-ending stream of repulsion and rejection intensifies my thirst for belonging and inclusion in a space that feels safe?
I’m Not Sure I Like What I Am
Further complicating things, it has become increasingly clear to me in recent years, that what we (sheltered, privileged, cisgender, heterosexual, Christian, white Americans) knew (or believed we knew) about many of the institutions and identities we’ve held dear all our lives is at best incomplete, and at worst, unabashedly deceptive. For me, this has eroded the very foundations of who and what I once understood myself to be.
America, for instance, isn’t exactly the “Great Melting Pot” I once imagined and so adored. The scourges of slavery, colonialism, genocide, racism, and imperialism were far more severe and persistent than I ever understood, and their ongoing impacts to so many people, utterly devastating. Suddenly being American, especially a white one, feels a whole lot different. Which is as it should be.
And my identity as a Catholic and even as a Christian has been shaken to its core both by the tsunami of sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and the horrendous, loveless, fear-driven, inhumane beliefs of the ever-and-increasingly vocal religious right.
Even within my own family, personalities clash creating a tense environment and making family unity, safety, community, and celebration a desire that is forever just beyond my grasp. And while I certainly continue to identify as part of that family, my sense of belonging doesn’t get satisfied through it in the ways I once imagined it would.
There’s so much of this, stateside and around the world. In our government, our places of worship, our schools and workplaces, and even within our personal circles of dear ones.
I’m not, I don’t, I reject, I refuse.
All this exclusion runs contrary to who I know myself to be. It’s no wonder that it’s unsettling and disorienting to me.
Searching for My People
Over the last five years or so, as my once-solid corporate identity quickly eroded, I’ve found myself searching for a sense of connection and belonging elsewhere. I also find myself gravitating toward two very separate and distinct circles of people who I’ll call “the woke folks” and “the spiritual people.” Aside from their shared general reputation of being hippy-dippy, head-in-the-clouds, idealists and dreamers, they don’t have a whole lot in common. In fact, it isn’t unusual for them to be deeply critical of one another. Yet, I identify with and deeply love and appreciate both.
My woke folks are out to change the world by shaking people up and awakening them to the harsh realities others face. They seek to draw us out of naive self-centeredness. They want to show us what needs healing in the world and how to heal it. To propel us out of our privileged complicity and into meaningful action.
For the under-served, underprivileged, and struggling among us, these people are a Godsend. And if you can get past their often-edgy, prickly exteriors to listen to them – really hear them – you will learn that just underneath their armor – their rage – is a sea of vulnerability, love, and deep compassion. And, Dear God, I really love them for it.
Just don’t try to tell them that “peace and love” are a means to the end. They will tell you, straight up, that disruption is the means, and peace and love are the
In stark contrast, the (mostly) women within my spiritual circle
With positivity as one of their central tenets, these ladies generally avoid giving any attention to life’s harsher realities in the hope of creating a more beautiful, abundant, joyful, and just world by increasing our collective vibration. And you know, it frustrates the heck out of me, but I love them for that.
And there I stand, one foot in each seemingly incompatible circle, carrying my giant satchel of “I’m not”s and uncertainty, trying to figure out where to go and who to be. I feel too woke to be one of these spiritual types (though maybe that’s a copout because one of the absolutely most woke people I know is also incredibly, beautifully spiritual), but not woke enough to run with the “real” woke folks.
I believe it’s essential to talk about the world’s pain and how to fix it. But I’d really like to do that with a warm smile and plenty of love, gratitude, and meditation thrown in to keep my efforts righteous and affirmative. I respect the rage of others, but I have no interest in adding to the world’s rage. I prefer to lead with love, hope,
The Space Between
And so, as has often been the case in my life’s journey, I find myself standing in the void, in the space between, belonging nowhere and everywhere all at once. It’s a confusing and lonely place to be; “the wilderness,” as Brene Brown would say.
All my life, I’ve sought a sense of deep, real, lasting belonging. I’ve craved the safety, intimacy, and sense of community I believed it offered. Yet, for all my searching, I’ve so rarely found it, and I don’t think I’ve ever found it in groups, only in friendship.
So maybe my lesson from this most recent journey around the sun is that that’s okay. And that my travels in and through the space between don’t indicate that I’m lost, confused, or somehow in limbo. That space between is my space, my place, my way of being. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and oftentimes very lonely. But I know how to fill it with love and connection. I just need to take the first step of meeting this reality honestly and welcoming it with open arms. And perhaps, most importantly, I need to stop expecting, wanting, and asking it to be something else.
I Am & I Belong
In “Braving the Wilderness,” Brene Brown says, “True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. We want true belonging, but it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments…True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
So maybe, if I can own th space between and show up to it as I am, I belong. Not to the woke folks or the spiritual ladies. Not to my country, my faith, or my family. Not to any arbitrary group I might join.
Maybe if I show up and stand up as ME, with all of my talents, wisdom, quirks, flaws, and failings maybe then I belong to me. And maybe, if I belong to me, wholeheartedly and without exception or hesitation, it will be ENOUGH.
Happy Birthday to Me
This possibility of belonging, and this idea that I can fulfill my own sense of belonging – at least in part – feels like a real gift. It feels like hope, peace, compassion, and ultimate acceptance all bundled up into one beautiful, beloved, luminous package. And knowing that I get to open this gift again and again, anytime I
A gift indeed. Happy birthday (belonging!) to me.
Oh, and PS: #BalloonsBlow. They’re pretty and so much fun, but until we figure out how to make them in such a way that they aren’t an environmental hazard, please avoid them!