“The place to which you feel the strongest attachment isn’t necessarily the country you’re tied to by blood or birth: it’s the place that allows you to become yourself. This place may not lie on any map.” – Jhumpa Lahiri
On Saturday we celebrated my father’s 90th birthday. 90 years! It is incredible to think that this man has walked this world for so long.
Our family gathered in Rochester, New York from as far as Kazakhstan and as close as Rochester to celebrate my dad. We celebrated his life through memories, songs, hymns, stories, and prayers. It was a beautiful time in celebration of a remarkable man.
Beyond the party were the connections to family: a cousin I haven’t seen since I was six years old; my beautiful Aunt Ruth who can outspell and outscrabble anyone in the family; my nieces – all beautiful women, some with husbands and children of their own, each doing remarkable things; my nephews – one an extraordinary musician and another like one of my own sons; my brothers and their wives – all so special to me.
It’s with in the context of this large, extended family that I feel that strong sense of belonging, that sense that I don’t have to be someone I’m not, that I can relax and be at home.
As I said goodbye, like I’ve done thousands of times before, I felt again that sweet sadness. Sweet – in that I’m glad I feel sad to say goodbye. How awful it would be to feel glad to wipe the dust off my feet and be glad it is over. How much better that I feel a sense of loss and sadness, because I love and belong.
As we drove away with the warmth of hugs and kisses, leftovers of our goodbyes, I realize again that no map can truly tell me where I belong. Because belonging is so much bigger than geography, so much greater than a physical location. Belonging is where you can become who you are supposed to be, where your existence matters not because of what you do, but because of who you are. Belonging is that place where people have stories about you, and you about them. Belonging is memories and laughter, and above all – grace.
Monday morning is here, and with it the smiles and delight of the weekend past. In the tired rush of morning, I barely see the impatience and resignation that surrounds me on the subway. The security of belonging paves my steps and I walk in peace.