I wandered the aisles at Barnes & Noble, looking for a captivating story—a much-needed break from dense clinical textbooks. Scanning the shelves, my eyes lit up as I noticed Kate DiCamillo’s new book, The Beatryce Prophecy. Kate’s stories always leave me feeling tearful and full of hope at the same time—my favorite kind of story. (Listen to Kate describe her “sacred work” here.)
Beatryce is an outsider who is rescued by Brother Edrik, a monk with a crooked eye and a peculiar, sentient goat. Beatryce has clearly suffered trauma, and has survived by forgetting everything except her name. Brother Edrik recognizes her distress and grounds her with these words: “You are Beatryce. You can read and write. You have friends in this world. That is who you are.”
Over the course of the next several chapters, we meet a delightful cast of characters. They are all outsiders in some way, like Beatryce. Every one of them is alone in the world, having lost the people who loved them, and with that loss, their sense of belonging and identity. While each character has been told by others who they are, each must face a challenge that forces them to finally embody their identity, and to speak their name with strength and clarity. The refrain repeated throughout the story captures this theme of belonging:
We shall all, in the end,
be led to where we belong.
We shall all, in the end,
find our way home.
Beatryce’s story called me to attend to my own story and my struggle with belonging.
Recently, I’ve been considering Gabor Maté’s words about how trauma disconnects us from others and ourselves. As humans, we need both this connection to others, experienced as attachment (belonging), and authenticity (identity, sense of self) to survive. Maté proposes that healing comes in reconnection to ourselves and others. When we return to our true, authentic selves, we are free to more fully connect with others in loving relationships, rather than fearfully connecting with others who require us to remain disconnected from ourselves, in a futile attempt to define ourselves by our connections. I understand better today how much I have been willing to suffer in relationships in hopes of even a little connection.
This month, I will graduate with my MSW and begin work as a therapist. I had the honor of being nominated by classmates to speak at our School of Social Work graduation ceremony, which took place online. Right before my speech, a message in the group chat that was mistakenly sent to “all” revealed a disgruntled comment about who was selected to speak, a message that felt more middle school than grad school.
My inner critic whispered, “Who do you think you are?” Then the texts from my family and friends, who were watching (and reading the messages), came in to call me back, to remind me who I am. I am Janet. I have friends in this world. I am meant to do this work.
Janet Stark is a deeply feeling introvert who has learned the value of creating nurturing, restful space in a loud world. She loves the connection that is possible when we slow down and listen to each other with intention. A few of her favorite things include the smell of freshly baked bread, soft blankets, good books, and the warmth of her puppy, Oliver, snuggled up close. Janet and her husband Chris love traveling, especially to spend time with their three adult children.