“I thought of what her exile really meant—that perpetual rootlessness, the ceaseless sense of unbelonging, the warding off of bitter thoughts.” As I sat back on a plane taking me across the world, this early line from Philip Marsden’s The Bronski House captivated me. The riveting story of poetess Zofia Ilinska, whose family hailed from what is now known as Belarus, formed the scaffold of my experience as I traipsed through these same ancestral lands. The parallels were spooky uncanny, their family home a few miles from the very small town of Iv’ye where my grandfather was born.
More than anything, I received another insightful layer of what it means to be an immigrant. And in this current crazy time, this is a good thing for everyone of us to remember. Because unless you’re Native American, specifically Miwok in the Sacramento region, you are an immigrant. We are a nation of immigrants and rootlessness and unbelonging are part and parcel of this reality. Much of our nomadic planet falls into this category. People who live far from ancestral burial ground, people disconnected from the natural wisdom steeped in cultural mores. People who have been amazingly creative with the freedom this disconnect offers. People who often seek and find a sense of rooting and belonging in very imaginative ways.
And of course there are still many places on the planet where people walk in the footsteps of the generations that preceded them. But the ironic reality is that even here there can still be a sense of disconnect. I spent ten days with these people of Belarus. I danced with them, I looked into faces so familiar eastern European. Folks who might have been my friends, my people, my community…if my grandparents had survived staying put in this region. But in this geography, in this last century, the horror of political winds have been incredibly disruptive to a sense of belonging. And this is the sad truth about many places on earth.
Combine this with the eruption of global communication, which you might think would create deeper connection. In reality, just my opinion, all this cyber-connection is a poor substitute for the breathing, touching, living human bonding we all crave. Don’t get me started. It all adds up to a sadly diminished sense of tribe. Deep in the Amazon, far out in the Australian outback, there are a handful of indigenous people with an ancient intact sense of belonging. For the rest of us? Personally I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to consider that this sense of rootlessness and unbelonging is at the very heart of the environmental and social ills that are plaguing humanity. Indigenous cultures are born into treating the earth and their fellow man in ways that we actually are trying to learn…or not.
In reflection, I see how my life has been dedicated literally and metaphorically to repairing community. I emerged from the cinders of childhood with a longing for healthy relationship and a deep need to create family and foster friendship. Once my children launched this as yet unconscious desire did not cease. I remember falling onto my first dance floor and immediately knowing that these too were my people. The last two decades have been all about creatively re-imagining tribe, calling in community, establishing a container where we can experience belonging and be held in our aching humanity.
There are many moments when I wonder if we can just make this up. Isn’t this just a poor proxy, a teeny band-aid for a gaping wound? Yet I had moment after moment on this roots journey that reassured me, comforted me, made me feel that if not this, what then? It was healing simply being on this land, walking old cobblestones, eating food grown from bone-holding soil, drinking cold water springing right out of the ground, kneeling by tombstones. And dancing with this particular tribe was some sort of circular completion.
I close with one miracle story from that dance floor…one captured moment among many. It was one of those 5Rhythms partner exercises to embody what it feels like to be held back, not permitted to move forward. My partner physically blocked my every step. I had just been to Iv’ye the day before and so the whole episode became about how my grandfather must have felt as he tried to make his escape to freedom. The stultifying frustration, the shame, the incredible endurance. It was so real…I wept in the intensity. And then I blocked my partner, had a sense of the horror of the oppressor role, the crazy stories I fabricated to justify my action to forcefully keep this living breathing human in her place. In the end, so much compassion arose for how the winds of history shaped everybody—perpetrator and oppressed alike.
Winded from the struggle, we sat with a translator so we could hear about each other’s experience. When I was complete articulating what this felt like for me, my partner asked where my grandfather lived. “Iv’ye.” Her face melted as she uttered a short phrase. The translator told me that this random partner, this woman from the Belarus dance floor was born and raised in Iv’ye…with roots going back as far as she can imagine. We held each other in this how-do-you explain-this-kind-of thing synchronicity. Well you don’t. Explain it. We just held each other in this moment of repair, in this moment of abiding connection, in this moment of rooting and belonging.
This, and so much more over the ten days, affirmed the need for us all to forge ahead, find our own unique ways to heal our very common rifts, keep searching for ways to embody these closing words from David Whyte’s poem House of Belonging:
This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.
There is no house
like the house of belonging.
Making it up as we fumble along together….love, bella