I have wrestled with the concept of belonging for many years. Since leaving my South African home at age 23, I have been singled out as not belonging. In NZ, in the UK, and now Australia. And I guess it bothered me enough to write about it endlessly and withdraw into myself on enough occasions.
Then, a few years ago, I met up with a journalist who was writing about her own explorations into belonging. We drank our herbal teas and shared experiences instead of chocolate cake, and it was enjoyable enough to say we’d stay in touch. But somewhere between saying goodbye and driving home, I had an unexpected epiphany. I realised that not-belonging wasn’t something new for me. I had never belonged or been accepted anywhere. Certainly not in South Africa. Not by my school mates or work colleagues. Belonging had never been a brooch that I had pinned to my collar. So, why then had it occupied so much head space in those years of exile?
And for the first time since I had began my belonging lament, I stopped and asked myself what belonging actually meant.
To belong: to have the right personal or social qualities to be a member of a particular group
And therein lay the crux of my epiphany. In order to belong to something/someone/some group, one has to conform to the rules/ideology/ways of that thing/person/group.
Perspective is a funny thing. Why had I never thought about it like that before? Considering I naturally rebel against conformity (and by extension, belonging), I could have saved myself a lot of lamenting.
By the time I got home, that previously illusive thing called belonging was nothing more than a tree with no branches. It no longer mattered that I couldn’t climb the tree, because I no longer wanted to climb the tree. And I finally made peace with the fact that not belonging/conforming was perfectly natural and acceptable, because that’s who I was at my authentic core. And that authenticity was the only sense of belonging I needed to foster.
And on that note, I’ll leave you with a poem from my second poetry book, PASSAGE (a book all about not belonging, and then finally finding passage to a different kind of belonging).
My ghost beckons me My ghost beckons me into the misty pines and I follow, like Autumn. The clouds dip their fingers into my thoughts and I fill the sky with poetry. A native I have never been, not even in my birthplace. But the forest hugs my ankles until I glow; like a lamp draped in damask silk. The snow may never arrive, but I have found a way to breathe.