“To be set upon by longing”
This, being the true etymology of the word “belonging”… seemingly paradoxical, given the way we conceptualize “belonging” in our culture. It’s the natural consequence, I suppose, of a culture rooted in slavery and theft and worship of insatiable “progress”, that we would have to redefine a word such as this as “to be the property of”, etc. Our use of the word has a binding around it, an attempt at control and ownership. And yet, I don’t believe any of that control yields what we are looking for. I looked up the etymology of the word “longing” and I see “to yearn after, grieve for” and “to grow long, lengthen”. What if we were to navigate towards our belonging in these terms? What would this change?
I’ve been spiritually captivated by this concept ever since I heard that interview a couple of months ago. I wrote at some length about it in an earlier post, and I’m still on that train today. I can tell that it’s doing some kind of work on me- I don’t yet have a lot of insight other than I know it’s got a deep resonance I can’t ignore. I see it cropping up in many areas of my life, in my own stories about how I came to a feeling of belonging in certain situations. I feel a deep and purposeful longing in most things, lately. I keep losing, and I keep finding something unexpected. I have more stories of farm loss and learning and subsequent existential musings, but I’ll save those for another day. For now I just want to dig into this word, this concept.
I’m reminded of a day a few years ago. I remember that I was sitting in unseasonably warm fall (or was it spring?) sunshine out on our land with children frolicking all around me, and it would’ve been at least a year before the house was built. I had this distinct wave of contentment and an intense sense of belonging, and it was followed with the idea that I deserve nothing. It wasn’t scary, it was reassuring. Felt like truth. Pretty interesting flow, huh? Warmth, contentment, love, belonging, deserving of nothing. I don’t remember exactly how I put it, but I shared this event on social media because it felt profound and good. I got a fair amount of resistance to my word use- people tried to lovingly reassure me that I *did* in fact deserve things, but that perhaps the word I was looking for was “entitled”, or something else. I started to concede that perhaps I had chosen the wrong word, but at that point my awesome mom chimed in and said she thought my original word was a good one. She understood what I meant, and was making a case for it. I remember how her understanding was part of what allowed me to hang onto that revelation. I still stand by my original reflection, and I’ve only had more and more of those amazing moments of distinct smallness that, strangely enough, give me more standing in this world. I don’t actually know why it works this way, just that it does in my life.
Even more years ago, I’m reminded of my first experiences with dumpster diving for food. A bag of oranges was practically gold in that context- something magical happened to our perspectives. All you had to do was pull out the one moldy one, and the rest were perfect! I remember being struck by our awe and delight over having encountered these dumpster treasures, and playing with the idea of what we’d think if we had found the very same imperfect/old items in the store itself. The store version of the bag of oranges was offensive, gross even. Where is that point of difference? The point at which my outward exclamations of gratitude shift into a nose turned upwards in disgust? My “deserving” of anything in that context almost has ingratitude built in. Think about that. It has been a powerful thought to me, the idea that our experience of life so hinges on our environment and the messages built into it.
It’s a simple point, but it’s one I see come up over and over in my life and experiences. If something is offered in a certain way (I hesitate to say what that way actually is, because I’m still figuring it out), even if it means I’m knee deep in garbage, I experience it as the product of a kind world. I’m grateful for it. If something is commodified, stripped from its home and context and relationships and efforts and presented on a platter for my consumption- it makes the thing, and my part in it, much less valuable. One would think that my gratitude would overflow, not having had to do the work of it, but that’s not what happens at all. How can this be?
Now, I find myself following this thing on mission. I feel like it’s no longer just a phenomenon, a wave that crashes over me and then subsides. I feel as though I’m starting to activate around it, to dive in myself in search of it.
Practically speaking, this looks like a reorganization of my energy, and in some ways I’ll be really intentionally simplifying. I’m going to be doing more homesteading over the next year, more communing with land and food and children and home. I’m going to be dialing down on certain commodity-centered farming activities, and I’ll go into more detail on what that means a little later. I’ll be ramping up on my learning, on service to living things in my care, my writing, my work toward good in the larger community… and we’ll see where that takes me.
Sabbaths – 1993, I (by Wendell Berry)
No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.