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On Belonging

Updated: Dec 28, 2022

On Belonging by Rev. Tania Márquez

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.”-Mary Oliver

When I think of belonging, I think of these words from Mary Oliver. They remain in my mind as the image of a promised land where each of us would know for sure and without a doubt that we belong.

Several online articles describe belonging as a basic human need. Humans need to know there is a place for them, there is a space or a relationship where they fit right in, or at least enough to make us feel safer or at home. That could be a group of people, a place, a person, or oneself.

I believe my sense of belonging, when based on the story I carry about who I am, is split in many places and people. I belong to more than one people and to more than one place. My belonging, too, is true in the spaces created by my languages, either one of them, and the co-existing of the two in me.

Let me tell you an anecdote:

When I decided to go to graduate school I had this brilliant idea, and ambitious plan, to learn the equivalent of popular knowledge that someone who grew up in the United States would know. I mean, decades of popular music, tv shows, books, magazines, fashions and customs, etc. I wanted to do this because I knew that the silence I held when people around me shared mutual understandings of these things, gave me away. I couldn’t pass or pretend to know more than I actually do and I feared that that would mean that I didn’t belong. There is always an invisible and strong connection that happens between people when they figure out that they have something in common with other people in a group: they become loud, they laugh, their eyes shine, and they point and make hand gestures adding to the story as others nod or say “yes, yes”. There is a sense of belonging, even if brief. I didn’t want to be excluded from that moment of connection.

I also want to name that there are many in our communities and society at large that have been long deprived from experiencing a sense of belonging. Knowing what it feels to belong, to be part of a group, to feel connected to others or to a place, is not a universal experience. I have read or heard people play with the word belonging and indicate that the word points out to our state of being longing for something more, for something greater than ourselves.

We, humans, also tend to have a sense of when we feel a lack of belonging, like not fitting in or feeling constricted and unable to be ourselves. We avoid those places, and people, and even if we don’t speak about them, we end up telling ourselves that we don’t belong there and, therefore, there is no need to return.

We belong, by affiliation, last name, origin, to specific groups that we may or may not identify with, but we also belong to the people, the places, the moments that make our heart feel happy. To where we know, without a doubt, that we are or have been loved.

As a final thought on this topic, and to be honest, the idea of belonging that most captures my imagination, is that which has been shared by the mystics; that we belong to an Ancient love, to the Divine, to the Universe, to the transcendental Mystery of Life that calls us towards it. That our existence is part of a whole, it’s one with all. And that this belonging is not dependent on our family name, our place of origin, the acceptance or approval of others, our identities or whatever we can add to our life story, but that is just a fact of being alive, that we are part of all that is, that we belong to that Ancient Love, whether we fully grasp that idea or not.

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

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