Friday, March 29, 2013

Longing to belong

The money collectors are out on street corners in honour of the Good Friday Children’s Hospital appeal.  I try not to resent the rattling of tins at every intersection I pass through on my way home from the airport.  One of my daughters is off to China with her boyfriend and we were up at 4.45 am in order to make their flight to Sydney and from there onto Shanghai. 

Most years I relish the quiet of Good Friday but this Good Friday has already been anything but quiet.  It’s the middle of the day before I have a chance to sit down and write. 

Yesterday a free-standing brick wall on a construction site fell over in Carlton killing two young people and critically injuring a third.  An hour or so later a couple of suburbs away in Richmond a truck clipped a car at a busy intersection, mounted the curb and then struck a fourteen year old schoolgirl on her way from home.  She died at the scene. 

Two freak accidents which have left me waiting for a third and so frightening on Holy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter,  or so it has been named in my family on my mother’s side for generations.  Holy Thursday and the last supper. 

I can only think of the families of those young people who died, through no fault of their own.  A freak accident.  In the wrong place at the wrong time and try as I might everything else pales into insignificance. 

The people rattling their tins offer broad and coaxing smiles –  give give give.  Most are dressed in uniform, from the fire brigade, to the SES, even school kids.  Collectors with arm bands and bright coloured tins.  All collect for charity. 

On the way home from the airport another daughter and I stopped in Carlton at Baker’s Delight to buy some bread and encountered a family of fire brigade collecting folk, father, mother and a few children.  They were all dressed in fireman’s overalls and rattling their tins in the faces of diners at one of the open air cafes where patrons enjoy their meals on the street footpath. 

I tried hard not to judge.  All in a good cause and people were polite and agreeable but inside my head I thought the collectors were intrusive.

It’s not a bad thing I know but still the part of me that resiles from too much generosity cringes.  Maybe such ‘begging’ has the hall mark of my overly Catholic childhood where excess generosity hid all sorts of atrocities. 

It’s sometimes hard to put the good deeds of the church up against the things that go on behind closed doors – the abuses, not just of children, but of others who are powerless to protect themselves. 

I went to an Anglican service on Wednesday night where one of my daughters sang in the choir.  I went to listen to her singing but the religious elements were to the fore,  not that they convinced me. 

I enjoyed the spectacle, the back and forth chanting across the church hall, the slow extinguishing of six of the seven candles in the centre of the church until a church helper in black robes took the last one from the church –  to symbolise Christ’s death or so it said in the accompanying pamphlet – and we were left in darkness. 

As I looked around at some of the people in the church, those whom I imagined had arrived out of conviction rather than from a wish to hear their children sing, I felt a twinge of jealousy. 

Oh, to believe.  To have such conviction, and a certain view the world and our place in it.  I have no such certainty.  As much as a part of me admires them their confidence, another part of me shudders. 

And there’s a shut out quality for those who don’t believe. 

I felt this as a child growing up within the Catholic church.  There was ‘us’ and there was ‘them’.  And belonging to the ‘us’ part of the equation offered security.  We were on the right path, the one true faith. The rest, the poor misguided souls were headed elsewhere. 

We could pity them.  We could have some level of respect for their mistaken ways but we were on the side of right and might and all was well. 

My mother's church from whence some of my sense of certainty first sprang. 

I lost that certainty a long time ago but these days when  I see signs of it elsewhere, and not just within religious institutions – it exists in football clubs, political parties, professional groups – I can feel the same cringe of exclusion, but this time from the other side, from that of the outsider. 

The same fear of and longing to belong.  


Juliet said...

What a thoughtful post on the conflicts around belonging. I was lucky that my parents held their Anglicanism very lightly, and in fact had drifted away themselves before I did, just before I went to university.

River said...

I've never felt that exclusion. I've always felt that all people are entitled to their own beliefs and faiths, so there is no need to feel excluded because I don't believe what my best friend believes. I'm happy with my place in the world, without needing to belong to any particular group, religion, faith.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Here we tend to call Holy Thursday Maundy Thursday. When I was a child everything closed on Good Friday - it was thought of as a really Holy Day. Now everything opens and it is judged a holiday.
As to the sense of belonging - I do know exactly what you mean - I think unless we are exceptional, we all have that feeling.

Rob-bear said...

As an introvert living in an extrovert world, belonging is sometimes an issue. A bit of overwhelming into a quiet life.

As to my faith, I have always had a sense of belonging. I have been treated extremely badly by some people, and that has scarred my life. But not pushed me away from my understanding of faithfulness. As for others, the ones for whom I feel sad are those who are in some ways uncomfortable in their spiritual life; those who aren't sure where they are, or where they belong.

Blessings and Bear hugs!
Bears Noting

Andrew said...

They were such a random tragedies in our city yesterday. Both cut me deeply. Oh, sorry to the lady in Syria for the loss of your toddler son who was just blown up. Close to home always seems more important.

I think, emphasis on think, I am past the need to belong. I also think being past the need to belong could be dangerous. Thought provoking thing to bring up. I just don't get religion at all, and perhaps I envy those who have faith but scientific endeavour does excite me.

Jim Murdoch said...

Belief and belonging. Big topics. I tend to differentiate between ‘belief’ and ‘faith’.


     The thing about beliefs is
     they don't need to be true.
     That's not their job.

     They're there because
     so many things aren't true.
     Nature abhors a vacuum.

     19th December 1996

The Bible say faith is “the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld” (Heb. 11:1) and that’s the difference: faith, to my mind, has to be based on evidence. ‘Evidence’, however, as any criminal lawyer will tell you, is open to interpretation. Paul, again, wrote: “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). As far as he was concerned the natural world was all the proof we needed of intelligent design. Not all scientists have seen it that way.

People can choose to believe in anything. They say things like, “I believe Dad’s in a better place now,” without any empirical evidence of life after death; they believe the world’s flat, they believe in the tooth fairy, Santa and true love. Believing in something is a little different—I suppose just as loving and being in love are different—and if you were to ask me what I believed in you’d give me moment to pause. [I have in fact paused for several minutes mulling over what to write next.] I think the meaning of life is the answer. Life has no intrinsic meaning any more than the two lumps of hematite that sit on the shelf in my office have meaning; that have had meaning imposed on them; they are significant to me. I believe in meaning. Life should mean something. Meaning is the meaning of life. No one should live a meaningless life. What I’m doing this very minute means something ergo I am truly alive as I write this.

Belongingness is another issue. Jung believed that our primary drive was to belong; Freud said sex was behind everything; Adler, not unreasonably, considered our need to master things our dominant trait, whereas the Beatles maintained all we needed was love. I’ve never belonged. I’ve been a part of many social groups both secular and religious but I’ve always struggled to feel I was ‘one of the boys’. I think being a writer has been the problem here, the tendency to stand to the side and observe rather than allow myself to be fully integrated. Also I’ve tended to find myself trust into leadership roles and that always sets one apart from the group. Again, I would say that my own personal primary drive is to live a meaningful life.


     There are so many types of truth.
     Some are simply answers
     others are good reasons.

     There are excuses too,
     sad, watered-down half-truths,
     and, of course, platitudes and lies.

     Some people refuse to count them.

     The deepest truths are called meanings
     which don't only answer,
     they explain or excuse.

     Then comes understanding
     and finally insight:
     the power to look within and

     not be afraid of the dark.

     31st August 1997

I’ve no poems about charity. Go figure.

Joanne Noragon said...

How to do it, how to do it? Parents with a core belief, faithfully rearing children to believe the true belief. Suddenly a child says he is gay. A daughter is pregnant. I gave up on insitutions when I was a teenager. Little is more destructive than institutionalized belief, not only for the outsiders, but for the insiders.

Anthony Duce said...

I enjoyed this very much. With an atheist father and catholic mom, the conflict within the family left me, still leaves me, envying those who belong to a religious organization, and believe based on what the organization tells them. But for me actual history and logic always gets in the way of the “approved” stories.

ellen abbott said...

I love Joanne's comment. I have never felt excluded for not believing in a religion. I shed religion starting in my late teens and finally and completely in my mid-20s. as humans I think we feel a need to belong and I remember feeling that, wanting to belong to a group. it never ended well for me whenever I managed to make myself part of one. I am not a conformist and my unwillingness to conform to all the 'rules' of the group always ended with a shunning. I learned that it is better to not belong than to belong and then be shunned.

Kirk said...

I wonder just how certain is the certainty of religious folk. They often seem very defensive about the mere existence of agnosticism and atheism, as if someone's trying to force them to be that way also (historically, it's been just the opposite). I think they just don't like to be reminded that such different ways of thinking is possible.

Elisabeth said...

Lucky you, Juliet to have parents who drifted away from religious conviction before you did. It leaves you freer to choose. Thanks, Juliet.

Elisabeth said...

You're fortunate, too, River, to be spared the sense of exclusion that comes out of wanting to belong. I wish I could say the same for myself, but as you'd know by now, I can't.

Thanks, River.

Elisabeth said...

The sense of specialness from the Good Friday shut down has all but disappeared here too, Pat. Despite my limited religiosity I have enjoyed the quiet and sense of peace such a closed down day brought. But it seems it's over now. Even Good Friday can be busy.

Thanks, Pat.

Elisabeth said...

Tanks for the blessings and bear hugs, Rob-bear. I might seem to you to be one of those who is uncertain as to where she belongs, but I think not. As much as I long for a sense of belonging, I experience it at times in various places, in fits and starts, but most of all within my family.

Thanks, Rob-bear.

Elisabeth said...

I'm still struggling with my feelings about those who died in that wall collapse in Melbourne and the fourteen year old killed by the wayward truck, all on Maundy Thursday. I think of their families including as you say those further from home, the woman in Syria too.

The dead ones are gone, but the families left behind must go through the agonies of grieving. And that's where some religious practices can help, I imagine. though not for me, and you too by the sound of things.

Thanks, Andrew.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for all the poems, Jim. Poetry suits such lofty concerns. I'm with you on the importance of finding some meaning in our lives, and how subjective it is. Life without meaning is the worst thing of all, which is perhaps why we go on about our beliefs so much. they can become anchor points, as long as we can occasionally up anchor and settle in new locations from time to time to get a broader perspective. Otherwise we tend to get stuck.

Thanks again, Jim

Elisabeth said...

Institutionalised beliefs are problematic as you say, Joanne. They cause people to get stuck in illusions and false promises. You were lucky to be able to abandon the in your teens. It took me a little longer.

Thanks, Joanne.

Elisabeth said...

An atheist father and Catholic mother, Anthony! It sounds like you were caught in the extremes. It must have been hard at times, but I wonder whether it also nurtured your talents in some ways.

Thanks, Anthony.

Elisabeth said...

I agree, ellen, better never to belong than to find yourself once included and then sent away. That's one of the worst feelings of all, to be ejected from inside. It's different though if we choose to take ourselves outside. That sort of escape can feel most liberating.

Thanks, Ellen.

Elisabeth said...

It is hard for some folks to recognise there are multiple perspectives on almost everything. It's a child's way of thinking perhaps, a young child with a deep wish for certainty and absolutes. Fortunately most of us grow out of that level of certainty and some of us can even bear doubt, complexity, contradictions, paradox and multiplicity.

Thanks, Kirk.

Anonymous said...

I left christianity some time ago. I attended a Christian celebration at Christmas 2012 and was not even moved to sing along with the few hymns and psalms I still remembered. I've always been an outsider. I find it funny, sad and annoying that people will forever try and include one into their religious activities when they realise one is on the margins of society. I've stopped running the other way. I'm just simply not impressed any longer.