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Today's quote:

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Art of Belonging



The art of belonging is not something that I've ever mastered. More than anything else, it's the art of packing up and moving on again that I seemed to have mastered after more than fifty relocations through more than a dozen countries.

For a long time I was one of those temporary men who move from country to country which adopt them for as long as their foreign skills are needed. I never belonged, and I was always pleased to move on, but there was also that feeling that I was missing something. Hugh Mackay in "The Art of Belonging" seems to have found the right words:

"Travel may broaden the mind, but it also creates the hazard of thinking that this charming little village in Umbria could be just the place for me. The people seem so warm and welcoming (unlike my rather ho-hum neighbours back home), the life seems so vibrant and everything seems so fascinating, I can see myself fitting right in here.

Not so fast. Most of us are attracted to places we visit precisely because we are visitors. We've shed our domestic responsibilities; we have money to spend (which is one reason we're so welcome); we feel free and flexible. Part of the pleasure (and the point) of holidays is that they fuel dreams of a better life: they create circumstances in which we may feel 'this is who I really am' or 'I could really be myself in a place like this'. Holidays are meant to be therapeutic, and part of the therapy is to indulge the pleasing fantasy that, if only we lived here, life would come closer to our dreams of Utopia.

Foreign countries are a particular trap. Because we don't really understand the culture - and perhaps not much of the language beyond the phrasebook - it's even easier to indulge those fantasies because the place seems so enchantingly exotic [which, to state the obvious, ceases to be exotic once you adopt it as your own], the culture so attractive, the possibilities so romantic.

[You may wish to satisfy] ... the desire to 'leave it all behind', where 'all' might range from family tensions to neighbourhood disputes, the futility of politics, the hassles of home and car ownership, or the inconvenience of having to shop, cook and deal with the garbage.

... The secret to the art of belonging is no secret at all: it is to accept that 'belonging' is not dependent on finding some Utopian setting. There is no wondrous community waiting somewhere for you to arrive so you can be embraced by the natives and imbued with the great Spirit of Belonging. It's not where you live, it's how you live."

After reading Hugh Mackay’s book, which I had picked up at Vinnies for $2, a curious thing happened to me: while I didn't get a sudden urge to meet the neighbours or join that local ukulele group whose meetings are advertised on the supermarket notice board, I came to the conclusion that I had arrived at a place and a time when staying at home seemed probably better than all the alternatives. All of which has cost me $2!

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