On Cooperation and Belonging

I like waking up early. It makes me feel as though I am at peace with the world, when people are quiet, and all I can hear are the few early morning birds, interspersed with the comparatively few cars and buses that drive by. I do sometimes (often) wish that I didn’t live in the city, that I was closer to nature and farther away from train tracks littered with empty soda bottles and coffee cups. In the early morning though, it’s bearable, and almost beautiful, for all that this life we live is unsustainable and terrible in so many ways. All the same, as much as I miss open air and the dew I was named for on wild grass, I feel like where I am right now is where I need to be, in this moment. I don’t know if it’ll be the right place for me this time next year, or even this time tomorrow, but at least for today I am where I am meant to be.

In thinking about this, I’ve been meditating on the ideas of cooperation and belonging. From my perspective, cooperation and belonging are inexorably intertwined. Looking at it from one angle, cooperation is a basic necessity because existence is cooperation with the world around oneself, and as such we are incapable of being anything without some small cooperation, because as human beings we cooperate with the universe that we exist in by existing within said universe. Without the universe there is no us. This unconscious cooperation exists whether or not one accepts it, so I do just to make things easier on myself.

And yet there is a different kind of cooperation as well, a thoughtful and conscious kind, that I call belonging. For what is belonging if not an intimate feeling of cooperation with the thing that one belongs to? True belonging is reciprocal, and it’s not about ownership, which is a different idea entirely. The satisfying, meaningful, essential part of belonging is both mutual and unconditional. That kind of belonging is what people can spend lifetimes looking for.

Unfortunately, it is entirely possible for someone to never find that belonging, which saddens me. I do not pity those who never find their place, or lose it,  because I find pity incredibly condescending, but I do think that I can empathize with them, because for a long time I lacked that sense of belonging, and thought that I would never find it. For most of my life I have felt out of sync with the universe, my community, and even myself. I held secrets within myself, and I feared that if they were discovered I would lose my place among those that I love. The good thing is that I was wrong in that regard, and it was only by cooperating with myself and the universe that I was able to discover what I should have known all along, which is that those who love me will stand by me, and thus in allowing myself to be vulnerable I actually got stronger.

I know that this is far from the case for everyone, and that I am incredibly lucky and privileged in many ways. I struggle though, with guilt that comes with feeling that because of my privilege I cannot feel pain and I cannot empathize, though I know that of course I will never truly understand what it is like from someone with a different perspective than myself. All the same, I am comforted by these words from Roxane Gay’s New York Times Bestseller Bad Feminist: “the acknowledgement of my privilege is not a denial of the ways I have been and am marginalized, the ways I have suffered.” (17) It has taken me a long time to get to this point, my ‘path’ has really been more of a stumble through the woods. But for now at least I have found a clearing. It will not be my home forever, but that is fine. I have a whole forest of opportunities waiting for me when it is time to explore again.

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