belonging


I am from a small town on the prairies and have lived in a handful of cities across Canada. I have moved from place to place in hopes of finding a place to belong. I have had breakfast at the Legion and attended black tie galas with famous people. The conversation has been as entertaining, educational and challenging in both arenas.

I know people who pack up their entire lives and relocate around the planet. Sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, sometime repeatedly. Why? Work, fear, love, loss, or in search of a sense of belonging.

My friend Michelle has Métis roots and has created an entire web project - Ota nda yanaan-We are here (www.otandayanaan.net) to contribute to the preservation, revitalization and accessibility of Michif, the language of the Métis of North America. The site involves a literal and figurative re-mapping of Métis communities in cyberspace and shows the stories and knowledge of people who belong to a community where Michif is still spoken in hopes of not losing a cultural legacy.

Dictionary.com defines belong as this: to be proper or due; be properly or appropriately placed, situated, etc.: Books belong in every home. This belongs on the shelf. He is a statesman who belongs among the great.

While walking down the bike path to the train the other morning, I saw a single knitting needle. Fallen out of someone's bag, it was lying there on the wet, cold pavement. What good is one knitting needle? It isn't. It belongs to a pair. As most of us aspire to do.

Pat Benetar sang about it. The lyrics to the chorus of We Belong are: "We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder. We belong to the sound of the words we've both fallen under. Whatever we deny or embrace for worse or for better, we belong, we belong...we belong together" I heard this on a recent flight tuned in to an 80's channel.

We don't belong on airplanes. It's the farthest thing from nature. Up to 36,000 feet away from anything natural. But technology has advanced so we are able to board and take off and land and arrive anywhere in the world we want to go. More often than not, safely. Like Ukraine for example, where storks build nests on the tops of street lights. I guess they think they belong there.

Years ago, I flew to Europe and wandered around for six months. To save money, I ended up living on a kibbutz in Israel for a while. The group of volunteers I belonged to was a bag of mixed nuts from Holland, Denmark, Sweden, South Africa, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and England. There also was one American guy named Larry, and me. The bonding agent between us was that we were all foreigners in a foreign place. For the time we lived there, we belonged there. We lived peacefully in our shared guesthouses. Earned our keep by working various jobs - picking avocados, taking shifts at the barrel making factory, doing laundry, sorting eggs, prepping food. We ate wonderfully huge lunchtime meals in the communal dining room and shared stories around bonfires of where we came from.

We don't choose where we come from. Like it or not, we belong to a family. And it happens to be the time of year where we end up spending time with them. Here in Canada, we shuffle around in our wool and leather, through ice and snow and wind to show up at gatherings that have potential to be hectic, fussy and challenging. Ideally they will also contain joy, love and laughter.

So if you find yourself sipping mulled wine, listening to Boney M's 20 Greatest Christmas Songs, trying to figure out where you belong, it might be worthwhile to let the longing go, and just...be.