Running away?

Something continually drives me away from belonging, away from a conventional life. I can remember sitting in maths class at school dreaming of another life. I was always curious about other cultures; I travelled to Malawi at 18, and married an Algerian some years later. I used to love leaving the academic bubble at the end of the day and coming home to his down-to-earth North African humour. Part of me secretly fantasised about living one day in his family home, spending my days nattering with in-laws and making couscous. 😀

I value the diverse perspectives and experiences in my life because they feed my curiosity and my fascination with people and my thirst for understanding. They open my mind and make my life extremely rich, varied and interesting.

And yet I wonder how much of this is about running away? When I look back to school days, I have never really engaged with my life. Never comfortable in my own skin. My accent is messed-up; in a very tribal sense, I don’t belong anywhere and have always keenly felt that. Have I shunned belonging because I didn’t want it, or because I didn’t have it and didn’t think I could ever have it? Have I made myself a perpetual foreigner because at least that way my lack of belonging comes as no surprise to anyone?

And does it matter? 😯

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7 Responses to Running away?

  1. Mariella Loconte says:

    I understand your feeling of not belonging… I feel it, too, and have felt it since I entered adolescence fifty-some years ago. Perhaps, in your heart of hearts, you do not want to belong anywhere, because once you belong, you are encased in clutches. Does familiarity breed comfort or contempt? Belonging to A means you don’t belong to B. Some people— I like to include myself in this generalization— feel so drawn and able to enter new realities that we’d feel handicapped if we didn’t have the freedom to do so.

    We pay the price of not belonging too firmly to anyone or anything. It can be lonely at best, painful at worst. Is it worth the trade-off? Do we have a choice, and, as you suggest, does it matter? I still don’t know, but I am starting not to care anymore.

  2. HMJ says:

    I agree with Mariella.
    ‘Not belonging’ frees you up to have a very open mind; to be one of life’s observers and free thinkers. You don’t feel the pressure to conform, and can ‘try out’ people/cultures/ideas.
    You’re right, running away and not engaging with your life, are dangers to be aware of, and, as long as you’re careful not to let them dominate, I can’t see that it matters.

  3. Anattacitta says:

    There is lot in this short post! As you know Sarah, I grew up in a small town in Cornwall. Despite having been brought up there since before I could remember, I wasn’t born there. According to many of my class mates, that meant that I was not Cornish. To this day, if anyone ever asks me where I am from I never say I am Cornish or that I am from Cornwall. My reply is always that I grew up in Cornwall. I do not regret the exclusion I experienced from this primitive tribalism – it was, let’s face it, rather trivial. However, it was just enough to impress on me from an early age how shallow the notion of belonging can be. Perhaps there in lie the roots of my social liberalism, and lack of interest in team games or in group loyalty for its own sake. I aspire to value people for their humanity rather than which particular subset of it they identify with. Of course I belong to groups and value them to some extent (I am trying to set one up at the moment!). I have a social identity based on commitments and affiliations, and these are essential to being a social creature. That all gets out of hand way too easily though. I think people who cleave themselves too tightly to a social group or identity are sometimes not so much running away as hiding away. They are often hiding from the stark reality that none of us has any ultimate, eternal security to which we can cling. We are certainly a product of our past relationships and conditioning and I value enduring friendships, but we are all being created in each moment, continually discovering who we are. An excessive preoccupation with belonging to (or possessing) people, places and things can stifle the ongoing creative enterprise which most meaningfully defines who we are at any given time. Certainly, settling in one place can help one to fulfill commitments, realise long term projects and cultivate deep relationships, but none of these things is completely dependent on being in one place or community these days. I think appropriate commitments are good, but not for the sake of belonging somewhere or trying to wrest some false security from the world.
    It is interesting that a range of ideals exist in religion. Commitment to a cloister is at one extreme and the life of the wandering mendicant is at the other. Different lives will suit different people, but perhaps the most important thing is the qualities you embody, rather than which you choose. However, I think that your concern about being at home in your own skin is very valid. If you are truly at home there, you will be at home anywhere, whether in one place for all your life or endlessly travelling the world.

  4. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the interesting and helpful comments, everyone.

    I think the point about loyalty and being encased in clutches is an interesting one. Just this morning I went to a service with the Liberal Jewish community. I am quite attracted to Jewish culture and I think that sense of identity that it brings is quite nice. Two new converts were being sworn in this particular morning. However, I was shocked at some of the affirmations they had to read. Something like “I pledge loyalty to the Jewish faith and Jewish people under all circumstances”. I really recoiled at this, quietly asking myself, does this mean they are expected to unequivocally support the state of Israel?? The converts also had to swear to raise any children they had as Jews, which made me bristle. I guess I have to conclude that Liberal Judaism is not that liberal.

    But the point is that although I always like the idea of belonging to a community, there is always some nonsense – like the requirement to put group loyalty above freedom of thought and choice – that repels me just as fast.

    Do I really want to be Scottish when they despised me for being an English kid?

    Do I really want a conventional life with a career, house, car, 2.4 kids or whatever when so many of the values of middle class British culture jar with me? When I can’t stand it that people think they need all this stuff? Arguably I don’t want that life because I don’t feel I have it in me, I feel I have failed materially; but then again, there’s nothing to make me want that life. I don’t want to join that club. Materialism has made us needy and self-pitying when the economic bubble has burst and I refuse to join in the pity party when it just feels so wrong to me. The modern western lifestyle is built on decades of exploitation of the rest of the world and it is wrong that we have come to see luxuries as god-given rights.

    Failure to belong or not wanting to belong? Maybe it is like the chicken and the egg, hard to know which originally came first. But today I certainly think I am not just running away.

  5. Sarah says:

    I went reading on the web and found info about the values of Liberal Judaism. With regard to Israel, it says the holocaust “made the reestablishment of an autonomous Jewish community in our ancient homeland a matter of absolute necessity. We therefore salute the Pioneers of Zionism and the founders and defenders of the State of Israel whose vision and courage have turned that dream into reality.We reaffirm our love for the Land of Israel, our solidarity with our brothers and sisters who dwell within its borders, and our commitment to the State of Israel.” Other points:

    • They support but do not encourage emigration to Israel.
    • Criticism of the government can be appropriate “expressed with loving concern and due deliberation”.
    • They do support compromising on territory.
    • “We ask all religious communities to try to understand the importance of the State of Israel for the Jewish people.”

    I probably shouldn’t comment too much on this in public. The main thing is that I kind of expected acknowledgement and condemnation of the atrocities committed by the state of Israel in recent years. I know there are Jews out there who see it that way. It is certainly not just Muslims who see it that way, e.g. SPSC.

  6. susanne430 says:

    I really enjoyed this post and also your comments and sharing about the Liberal Jewish community. Interesting!

  7. Pingback: Out of balance | Meaning and Truth

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