I am a recovering people-pleaser.
There are people and events in my life that I could point to that made me become this way; there is also my own constitution, and I will never be able to discern the two. But, as I pull myself up (over and over again) from the depths of inadequacy, feeling that I don’t belong, thinking I am undeserving unless I put everyone and their needs before my own, there is always a constant place from which I pull my strength.
It is not inside of me, it is without.
There is an island off the coast of Maine where there is no electricity, no running water. Instead there is a natural spring, there are outhouses, there are propane ovens and refrigerators and lights. There is a place where people do things the way they’ve always been done, and it is this place that I return to again and again when I need to remember that I do belong.
There is the night sky.
A real night sky, unburdened with light pollution. I wake in the middle of the night, too lazy (and scared) to walk all the way to the outhouse, I go pee outside. I’m thankful for my tall, rubber boots. I look up and I am struck by this heavenly sight that seems so elusive everywhere else. I never knew there were so many stars. The sky, so heavy with stars, yet still so black between them, makes me feel small. It puts me in my place. I think about death and what happens after we die. This sky, it reaches inside of my chest and clutches at my heart. The mosquitoes start to swarm and I am distracted. The shadow of that night—of every night I have been witness to that magnificent night sky—stays with me. I am small, insignificant, but I am also a part of something so vast and beautiful.
There is the quiet.
The soundtrack of my days are not motors, or music, or man-made noises. They are birds. The gentle cooing of the mourning doves and hearty cackle of the seagulls. Of course, there are the lobster boats, a gentle hum in the distance, but their sounds are overshadowed by the rhythm of the ocean relentlessly heaving itself upon the shore. The ocean’s tides mark the time, laying out a new pace with which to live my life. The crickets. The wind. I go running and I hear my breath. I hear my heartbeat. I begin to hear my voice. I begin to speak up. I write poetry on the rocks.
There is the adventure.
Getting “lost” in the woods with my sister. We know that every path on this small island will lead us home. We pick berries in the late summer and find our way through the dense forrest and mossy floor all the way to the lighthouse. We build forts. Grandpa helps us build a raft using the rails from the old sheep pen. Going to use the outhouse before bed; the sun has set and we must use our flashlights to walk the dark path to the wooden shack. My heart beats faster, but I know I am safe, eternally. That voice I’ve finally started to hear tells me, “Everything’s okay. You’re going to be fine. You can do it.”
There is a place of gut-wrenching beauty. I feel blessed that it is part of my human experience. I love this island, and as a steward of this place, I know she loves me in return. It is autumn now and so I hunker down for the next eight months, which will drag on, until I can return to her shores again.
Until then, I will try to remember that I belong.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise