Longing to Belong – Newcomers in an Ancient Land

EXCERPT:

This journey begged the question once again: where did I belong? Where was home? Perhaps I wasn’t charting my own course after all. Maybe I was simply following in my mother’s footsteps by leaving her, just as she had left her own mother to come to America. Now my sister Naomi and I would be the second generation of daughters to leave our mother for a foreign land.


Proud parents Jean & Leon with newborn twins Paula & Naomi, London 1945

Newcomers in an Ancient Land is the story of my search for home and belonging half way around the world. Although I was lucky enough to grow up in the loving embrace of my family, our many moves growing up left me feeling rootless in the larger world. While I became very good at making a home wherever we landed (after all, I’m a Cancer), feeling at home wasn’t always so easy.

The search for home – a place where you feel safe and accepted for who you are – is as old as the biblical story of Exodus, yet as urgent as today’s global refugee crisis. As human beings this need is wired into our DNA as Susan Whitcomb explains in her recent blog.

Belonging means to be a part of something—part of a friendship, or a romantic relationship, or a work team, or a community, or a group working toward a common cause, or, or, or.

The longing to belong, like the longing to be loved, is wired-from-birth within each one of us—it is a human need that every one of us has. We find meaning and inspiration in connecting and co-creating with the people we belong to; and we find comfort and solace in walking through the moments in life that are disappointing or painful.

During my first tumbleweed years, it was hard to know who I was and where I belonged for many reasons. On one hand, as a mirror-image twin with bright red hair, I couldn’t escape constant notice; yet on the rare occasions when I appeared without my “other half,” I felt virtually invisible. Turns out, when no one can tell you apart, it’s tough to know who you are! As my story evolves, the special bond that still connects my twin and me like a diaphanous membrane, will have to stretch enough to allow us each to go our separate ways.

Beyond individual identity, I also longed to feel a part of a larger community, not simply a transplant. But with my mixed Jewish/gentile heritage (Mom was from England while Dad was a secular Jewish-American leftie), that too was a challenge. Whether in a church or a temple, I felt like an outsider – half of everything, whole in nothing. Where was my tribe?

Growing up in the mixing bowl of the conformist nineteen fifties, when differences, whether ethnic or political, could be deadly, it was safer to blend in. The boogeyman I most feared was Senator McCarthy and his HUAC (House Unamerican Activities Committee), rather than any “commies” hiding under my bed.  

It’s no coincidence then, that Longing to Belong was the original working title for my memoir. [Insert hyperlink]. It’s woven into the tapestry of my story like a through thread. I hope you’ll agree as you join me on a journey of ten thousand miles in search of a place to call home.

Fast forward to the present. Nowadays, I volunteer in support of migrants struggling to reach a new home, although my efforts are only a drop in an ocean of a problem. While I may have feared being ostracized for being different as a child, today’s immigrants are downright demonized. But my underlying sense of vulnerability as an immigrant has never fully left me, so it’s natural that I identity with the immigrants of today, many of whom are fleeing dangers and conditions far worse than I ever encountered, hoping to rebuild their lives from scratch in a strange land and language.

Questions:

  • Where does your sense of belonging come from?
  • Conversely, what alienates you from feeling you belong?
  • Is your sense of belonging tied to a geographic place, your faith or some other aspect of your identity?
  • Is it necessary to feel like you belong to a tribe?
  • What can you do to welcome newcomers in a strange land?


MUSINGS on the LUNAR NEW YEAR!

Greetings for the the Lunar New Year – also known as Chinese New Year, the Tet Festival (in Viet Nam) and the Spring Festival!  Celebrations well under way throughout China, Southeast Asia and the of course, the San Francisco Bay Area where I live.

This being the Year of the Pig, I felt justified in pigging out (a little) at my favorite local Chinese restaurant the other night. But when I read the fortune in my cookie, it wasn’t the usual proverb or platitude: “Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?”  And I’ve been thinking about that challenge ever since. Why am I afraid to go out on a limb? Today I watch a squirrel leaping from limb to limb on an old plum tree outside my window, while a bird perches on the tip of a branch, shaking the early blossoms. They’re all literally going out on a limb. “Well,” you may say, “their DNA is simply programmed to do that.”  Still, sitting at my desk like a sedentary stone, I can’t help envying the lightness and agility of these riparian creatures.

But as surely the earth circles the sun, I too can feel the stirrings of new beginnings even though winter still reigns supreme in much of the country.  Something deeply magical happens when I synchronize with the cycle of the seasons on a lunar calendar rather than slavishly following the linear Gregorian calendar. As the ancients knew, the moon’s gravitational pull regulates the tides and the fertility cycles of women, not to mention the romantic musings of poets, lovers and lunatics. Not bad for a pale orb of stone with no life of its own, whose only light is but a reflection of the sun.

Beyond setting the Chinese New Year, the lunar calendar is more widespread than you might think. For example, both Jewish and Islamic holidays follow the lunar cycle. This year, the Arabic New Year known as Hijri is synchronized with the appearance of the new crescent moon on August 30, while Rosh Hashana begins at sundown on September 29. Arriving near the end of the harvest season, these lunar holidays bring endings and beginnings full circle.

So instead of stressing over a million essentials that have to happen between now and the launch date of my book in July 2019 – stuff like final proofs (a relief), getting my website up (yay), generating blogs (ugh), updating social media (Grrrrr…), or (scariest of all) humbly seeking testimonials – I’m trying to remember that I’m on track at a deeper level. July just happens to be my birthday month so what better time to bring my book out into the world?

READY, SET, GO: LAUNCHING A NEW BEGINNING!

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”  – Anaïs Nin

As East coast and Midwestern Americans huddle in the grip of sub-zero temperatures, I feel (almost) guilty for enjoying a balmy breeze on this last day of January. Although our California winter isn’t quite over yet, a pair of robins and an iridescent hummingbird are already flitting among the delicate white blossoms of an ancient plum tree outside my window, sure signs that spring can’t be too far away.

But make no mistake, I’m not a stranger to frigid midwestern winters. Trudging through sleet and snow on my way to school in Iowa as a child, I kept a keen eye out for even the tiniest hint of winter’s waning. The swellings on bare branches or the flash of a bright red cardinal gave me hope on the bleakest of days. But the courageous crocuses were my favorite sentinels of spring.  With their tenacious toes mired in slush, their delicate faces spattered with mud, and their pale green sheaths erect as soldiers, they never stopped pushing their way up through melting snowdrifts and icy rivulets at the edge of the sidewalk. How brave they were! Inspired, I sucked the frosty air into my lungs until they ached, tightened my boot laces, and marched off to school in their honor.

Fast forward to January 2019 and I find myself summoning that same kind of “crocus courage” as I anticipate the launching of my memoir, Newcomers in an Ancient Land, due out in July. Though I’m thrilled and humbled, I’m also trembling like the plum blossoms hanging over the ravine at the edge of my backyard. But there’s no turning back now. Like the crocuses, the book is now poised to open.