On Belonging


Natalie Garro, 129 TESS

Sunday, August 25th, 2019

I think an unintended, unconscious consequence of never feeling like I fit in anywhere was, perhaps, the freedom to evolve however I wanted. I’ve never had any idea of who I’m “supposed” to be, so I’ve tried on dozens of identities. I’ve kept bits and pieces of each one – whatever I felt fit – and discarded what didn’t. Maybe the circumstance of not knowing who or what I am necessitated building an identity from scratch. I’ve spent most of my life bouncing between scenes – almost always a visitor – not on the outside, but never truly belonging anywhere.

I’ve felt more accepted in Thailand than I have anywhere else. Here, for the first time in my life, I almost feel like I belong. In many ways I do. I’ve been adopted into my village: I am thought of, cared for, checked on, supported, loved. But my language, culture, and habits constantly remind me I am still other.

Being an adoptee has always been much the same. I am part of my family: accepted, cared for, and loved. I’m still reminded that I’m adopted all the time.

I’ve known I was adopted for nearly my whole life; and being adopted has, even outside of my family, made me other. When I was a kid, other children would always ask me what the orphanage was like, even though I was adopted from birth (and thus have never been in an orphanage). Even when I’m with my biological family, I am outside. There’s an awkward, uncomfortable tension, endless questions none of us ever ask, and a history we do not share.

I’ve felt isolated for as long as I can remember, always looking for and never finding the place I belong. And maybe I’ve always felt out of place, because I’ve never known what it feels like to – without question, undoubtedly – belong somewhere. Every piece of my identity has always felt like a brick in the wall separating me from everyone else. 

I think at some point I stopped searching for belonging, and I started building my own version of a whole, complete person. For years, I filled the empty spaces – the places that had always held unanswerable questions – with hobbies, work, and spiritual pursuits. When I moved to Thailand, all of those things were gone; the questions came back, and I again found myself facing a self I did not know and, therefore, could not love.

But Thailand has taught me, I don’t need the answers to be worthy. I don’t even need to ask the questions. I don’t need to be of a place to belong there. I don’t need the shared history, the same culture, or even fluency in the language to love and be loved by the right community.

To be other does not make me less-than. It does not make me invisible.

I’m not sure I’ll ever truly belong anywhere, and – for the first time in my life – that’s starting to feel okay. My circumstances simply are. I simply am. I have two choices: move forward or be still. And I have always kept moving forward. There really isn’t any other way. 

Read Natalie’s previous articles and contributions.

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