The Beauty of Belonging | Celebrate What's Right With the World
The Beauty of Belonging
by Eric Alan
September 23, 2017 - 10:54am

I was born a thousand miles from home. That persistent feeling has been with me since… well, since I can first remember, as a kid growing up in suburban Los Angeles, doing a Sierra Club jigsaw puzzle of the redwoods. I felt instinctive kinship with the pictured trees. 

It took me until my thirties before I moved far enough north to feel I was finally home, in Oregon. Twenty-five years later, I still feel that way. This forest isn’t the redwoods, but it has those qualities of green and moist that have felt like my conditions of belonging since long before I actually experienced them. 

I celebrate that feeling of belonging. But I still wonder, what does it really mean to be home? What does it mean to belong? Those questions have stayed with me over the decades, finding different answers at different times.

At times, home has felt like a place—as with this forest log cabin and adjacent land. At other times, it’s felt like a community, regardless of place. It’s also felt like an intimate love. A song. A writing project, or a photographic one. Most centrally it has felt like a sense of quiet inside, of being at peace with myself—a rare and transient place of belonging in my own skin, in this very moment, wherever I happen to be. Home continues to evolve, constantly. 

I thought about home and belonging again when I saw this grasshopper in the dry Colorado summer. It clearly is where it blends and belongs. I doubt it yearns to be anywhere else, even though its life is uncertain and surely not easy. Same for me, I thought: home is not an easy place, nor does it need to be. It just needs to be the right place, whatever form it comes in. That’s when the stress melts away or isn’t important. And I felt oddly at home in Colorado too, even as a visitor. 

Migrations are natural. That thought also occurred to me, as I looked at the grasshopper, and at the soaring birds above. In the natural world, home does not come with a mortgage. It isn’t attached to any concept of ownership as we know it. Home and belonging are to be experienced, not purchased. We can take them with us if we migrate wisely. 

That, in turn, reminded me of traveling monks I once met. They had been continuously on the road for seventeen years, at that point; yet they seemed as grounded as the most rooted people I’d ever known. I believed they were from the Philippines, but I wasn’t quite sure. 

“Where are you from?” I asked one of the monks, naively.

He laughed. 

“I am from here,” he said. “It is all the same place!” He laughed again, gently, not mocking. 

Smiling at the memory, I looked down and photographed the Colorado grasshopper, realizing I was actually photographing belonging and home. 

Then I walked off singing a favorite song verse, from “Bees” by the Ballroom Thieves:

“Carried by the currents of the morning

Miles below the surface of the dawn

This is not the place that I was born in

That doesn’t mean it’s not the place where I belong.” 

I had never been there before. I was home. 


Barb Bozzoon September 24, 2017 - 10:50am

WOW, Eric, your powerful blog came at a perfect time for me. At 73, my husband and I are looking to possible relocate, but hopefully somewhere where we will both like and "feel like home:. He yearns for the wide open spaces, away from big cities and full of nature's bounty. The photographer in my would love that setting also. However, the mother in me wants to spend my senior years near our children/grandchildren. In the seventies, we moved from both our families from the Midwest to California. I know how traumatic it was for our parents, but they understood that is where the job took us. Now, however, we have the choice to relocate to wherever we want. Not sure what our decision will be, but I love the monk's statement "I am from here". Here is where the heart is and where you consciously choose to live each day to the fullest. And, if your "here" isn't quite what you expected, then you move to "there"........

Adelleon April 5, 2018 - 9:39pm

Good post

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