Home and a sense of belonging

My writing pal, Lisa McGonigle, published an article, In It For the Long Haul, in the Feb. 2012 issue of The Fernie Fix about her long-distance lifestyle. I met Lisa several years ago at the Fernie Writers’ Conference, before she published Snowdrift, and I’ve followed her travels since that time.

This particular article resonated with me because, although my travels have not been as far-flung as Lisa’s, I have maintained two residences, one in Calgary and the other in Bequia, and spent these past five years flying back and forth between the two. Most of my worldly possessions have remained at the house in the Caribbean, along with the cats and Dennis, while I’ve moved around between Calgary apartments to house-sitting situations, accumulating more stuff in an attempt to make a home for myself in the city where I actually worked. Because of the nature of my business, I was able to manage three trips to Bequia every year, usually during their off-season. I told myself I didn’t mind the Calgary winters – really – and I was able to build a good business as well as an extensive network of friends and colleagues that always made me feel “at home” again every time I returned to Canada.

Unfortunately, my circumstances changed in the fall of 2012 and I decided to return to Bequia – at least for the winter months – and reassess my business and my life. I gave away most of what I’d accumulated over those five years, stored the rest in a locker as well as with several friends, and flew off at the end of November. (I have Vincentian citizenship, so I am allowed to stay there indefinitely. And the immigrataion and customs agents usually say, “Welcome home!” upon my arrival. I never hear that from Canadian officials.)

The plan was always to come back in April, because I had committed to giving a presentation at a Calgary library on the 12th. I’m also planning on attending my high school reunion in Toronto in May. I figured 7 weeks was lots of time to see everyone I needed, and wanted, to see and to visit with family.

The reality is, though, that Thomas Wolfe was right: You Can’t Go Home Again. Or once gone, easily forgotten? I feel as though I no longer belong in Calgary. People are too busy; appointments and dates are being cancelled; all plans I made previous to the trip have suddenly dissolved. It’s left me wondering why I’ve come back.

But then I never felt as though I belonged on Bequia either while I was there over the winter.

So now I really wonder where home is for me. Sometimes I think it’s in the air, on a plane, somewhere between Calgary and Bequia. If I were Lisa’s age (which is about half of mine), I would consider a new start in a brand new place, creating a new life for myself. New horizons, new possibilities.

But I find I’m too old for that now, so I’ll have to be content to live vicariously through Lisa as she continues on with the adventures of her own life. And create and invent reality in my mind by writing stories.

… when you remember that You are the author of Your own Life story, You enter into the beautiful process of becoming, as You should be, the author of Your own life, the creator of Your own possibilities …
Mandy Aftel

(And here’s another article about Lisa written by our mutual writing pal, Darcie Friesen Hossack.)

9 responses

  1. “Where do you belong to?” In Newfoundland this was a question often asked of strangers to understand where they were born, where they come from. Consciously or
    unconsciously, it may have been speaking to something deeper – where your people were from and the influences that shaped your life. Where you were living now, did not seem as relevant as “where you belonged to”. Do you always belong to the place where you were born? To many Newfoundlanders this would have been yes, they died where they lived. Many of them, outport people who made their living from the sea, never even travelled outside of their community, let alone outside the country. They were tied to the sea, they belonged to it as surely as the fish that they caught. They had a deep sense of connection to the sea , and a respect and reliance on it that was generations in the making.They belonged to the life that they had created or inherited.

    I have spent much of my life betwixt and between places, with no permament home that I belonged to, once I left Newfoundland as a young woman. I have travelled the world, gypsy like, with a nomadic resistance to settling in one place for ever. How could I choose one place when there was a whole world of places and possibilities to explore? I travelled for work and I travelled for pleasure, sometimes to completely new and unexplored (for me) places and sometimes revisiting old, familiar places. Each time was like setting out on a new adventure, making my home temporarily in the place I now found myself, getting grounded there, making friends and connections. I felt like the world was my home, I belonged to it. But strangely, the place that came to feel homelike, commonplace, in all of this travel was the Air Canada airport lounge, the place I would relax and settle into if only for an hour between my comings and goings.

    I feel I now belong to three places – Vancouver, Newfoundland and Bequia. My dear friend Tracy says she will not allow me any more than 3. I understand where she is coming from. It is good to have some rootedness in a place – a place where there is focused work, where you can build a sense of community and connection with people and the things that inspire you. And not to be scattered all over the place.

    Vancouver is the place I have lived and worked in for over 20 years, it is the place where I have married and divorced, the place of great and continuing friendships. It is the place that nurtures my desire to grow and become more enlightened. I love it there.

    Newfoundland is the place of my birth, the place I can say I belong to. It is the place where my sensibilities as a Newfoundlander developed, it is the place where most of my family, including my 91 year old mother still live, it is a place where the landscape is raw and elemental in its beauty, and it keeps drawing me back. I love it there.

    Bequia is the Caribbean dream that most people have, a small island with a big sense of community, a place where I teach Yoga, write and live for most of the year, especially during the cold wnter months. It is a place, that when you leave it, keeps filling your mind so that you feel you have to go back. I have some great frieds there, And guess what. I love it there too?

    So where do I belong? I think all this moving around, this seemingly untethered life has forced me to look at this question and come to an understanding, perhaps, a comfort, that I belong to the life I have created, sometimes the one I have fallen into unexpectedly, or the one I have consciously chosen, the life I am living right now. Every experience, joyful or otherwise is the tapestry of my belonging, each moment is another part of the structure of my house of belonging as David Whyte calls it (see poem below). I have learned a lot about this sense of belonging from my own practice and teaching of yoga. Through it I have become more comfortable, at ease with the house of my own body/mind, that I live in this body/mind and take it with me wherever I go. Sure having a physical house that you can call home is important. But you can have a house and still not feel at home if you do not really inhabit the body as the real house that you live in. To be truly comfortable in ones own skin. To also acknowledge the unique gifts and contributions that you have made to someoone or something around you, no matter how small it may have seemed at the time. It is the life force in us all that allows us to do that. And to be aware of, acknowldge and love this life that is you,as likley the place that you belong to most of all. In the end any house you dwell in will be gone, but always there will be an impression,even if it is just a vapour, of the life you have lived. Live well in the house of your belonging.


    1. Thank you, Patricia! This is beautiful.

  2. I found this very touching. I spent a good part of my consulting career working on inclusion issues, including developing a working definition of an inclusive society: A society where everyone belongs creates both the feeling and reality of belonging and helps everyone fulfill their human and social potential. When I was doing this work, I was in the northern woods for the first time, not having much of the feeling and reality of belonging…but that’s happened throughout my life. In a funny kind of way, social media has allowed me to create something that at least hints at that. I find communication, in many cases, more intimate than a lot of real life stuff. I always appreciate your willingness to ‘go deep’ and share your experience and the insights that flow from it.

  3. Dennis Ference & Susan Toy

    It’s not as negative as I had thought it was going to be. You’re just simply telling it the way it is, and that the experience isn’t unique. With the few fortunate and rare exceptions, and there are some, rely less on others and more on yourself. Let’s see if anybody responds to this post.

    1. Well, that’s where the writing comes in … and certainly helps.

  4. Sue, I can completely identify with what you are saying (writing), and for all the same reasons! Suffice it to say (pardon the cliche) that “home is where the heart is.” Take good care.

%d bloggers like this: