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On Family, Home, & Belonging
Or how the more you struggle to fit in, the less you do
You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. More and more I belong to myself. I’m very proud of that.
— Maya Angelou
This weekend I went down to a town called Tulum to attend a “Full Moon Party” which I’d heard about ever since I first arrived here in Mexico. It has quite a reputation, a sort of Mexican "Burning Man". The point isn’t so much what you experience at the festival, as it is being able to post on Instagram that you went. You think I’m exaggerating, but trust me — the entire town of Tulum is littered with purpose-built, inspirational quote selfie stations which were only created so that a given store's logo would be posted thousands of times on social media.
Tulum as a town has its own strange sense of style which separates the "Tuluminati" from the rest of us. And ain’t none of it cheap. I saw a plain silver anklet in a display case for $120 and assumed it was pesos (about $6 USD) but nope, $120 USD. All of this combined gives the whole town an aire of exclusivity. The entire time I was there, I felt an overwhelming sense that I didn’t fit in; that I didn’t belong.
This got me thinking about what it means to belong — to places, to people, or to yourself. There are places I’ve lived for years which have fond memories, but are still just points on a map, while some (like Juneau) felt like home from day one. Same with people — there are some that I’ve known for years but don’t have have an affinity for, and then there are others (like this WiFi Tribe) who immediately felt like family.
If I were to try to define home or family, I’d say that (like love), they are both just a choice — not to make people or places “yours”, but instead to become theirs. It involves accepting them for who/what they are without requiring them to change; being authentic and vulnerable at the risk of being hurt; giving without expecting anything in return.
But you do get something in return: a sense of belonging.
Belonging isn’t an action verb; it's not something you make happen; and there are no shortcuts. I feel like cultures like the Tuluminati offer a false sense of belonging for a price. But belonging can’t be bought, only given. It’s one of those funny things in life: the more you struggle to fit in, the less you do.
True belonging — when people become family and places become home — happens when we stop focusing on ourselves and start focusing on others.