The most terrible and beautiful and interesting things happen in a life. For some of you, those things have already happened. Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will. ~Cheryl Strayed
When I think about belonging, I think first about finding where we fit in the universe, both in the broadest sense and the narrowest. At its most basic, belonging means there is a you-shaped place in the world. For most of us, the word belonging sounds like home, smells like love, and tastes like being essential to someone or some place. If we widen our gaze a bit, we can also see that belonging has to do with our biology and anatomy, and how they make sense in the context of species and habitat. If we narrow the focus, we see autonomy and sovereignty: belonging to ourselves; personal power. What do we get when we go even deeper? When I put my finger on the pulse of belonging, I hear story. Underneath science, inside the motion and flow of being alive, we are built of stories and our stories are built of us.
Your story begins with you and also predates you. It lives long after you, whether it’s in a great-grandchild’s eye color or the tree which grew over your final resting place. Our stories make us and we make them. They are not us and we are not them, yet they cannot exist without us and it’s impossible for us to exist without them. Even the shortest life demands a line of explanation: “Ida Lee, here but a minute, breathed her first, and then was gone.” We are in long-term mutualistic symbiosis with our stories. That’s a fancy way of saying that we are not the same species and yet we cannot exist without each other. Our stories belong to us and we belong to them.
When nothing else stays the same, our stories offer us shelter and a home. When the constant shift and pull of cosmic tides and weather means chaos and movement in the practical and tangible, stories blanket us in identity and meaning. Stories give us bones and they give us a place to go when we’re alone. They explain the things we can’t find words for. Our individual stories connect us to a larger story—to humanity, history, the universe. But they cannot exist without us. They were born with us and they are still giving birth to us.
No wonder, then, that loss or lack of story is so bitter and so hard to swallow. So much of the fear women feel about menopause and midlife experience stems from the lack of female stories in their lives. Even when we are lucky to have friends who are a few paces ahead of us, in terms of experience and age, we can feel, deep in our bones, the separation from mother stories and blood stories. How can we nurture ourselves when we feel disconnected from our female myth or when we’re the first in our families to tell the truth of our body experiences? How can we weave shelter and safety for ourselves out of these frayed strands and missing words?
There are few blood stories in my family line. The ones which exist are so painful and so violent that I instinctively pull away and want to cover my ears. I have known since I was tiny that I was born into a story full of holes and ripped seams. It wasn’t sheltering. It was threadbare. But every time I tell my stories of loss and change, discovery and transformation, I am reweaving my connections to blood and life. I am reconnecting myself to the larger story of women and the universe. I am creating my own belonging. As I weave and create and reconnect, my story is creating and recreating me. I am making a home for myself in this wild, uncertain world. I am bringing myself back to life.