Years ago I read about a culture that has a practice of returning to the place where you experienced some kind of trauma, big or small, to retrieve the piece of your spirit that was left there. It doesn’t have to carry significance in any kind of big way (although, of course, it may), it just had to have been significant to you. The belief is that you left a piece of yourself there. And you have to go back and get it.
I was thinking about this awhile back when I was running. I was back for a visit in the town where I grew up, helping my elderly mother and her husband. As with most of us, I’ve got mixed feelings about that place, historically and currently. All the good, historically and currently, is mixed in with the hard stuff. When I get there, I tend to lose my way. The pull of my childhood seems to be stronger than whom I’ve become, and the current ever evolving situation with my mother and her health can lead me to throw in the towel and do whatever it takes to get some work done and try and process the situation—and whatever it takes means forget the workouts and eat with abandon. Each time I go I tell myself I’m not doing that this time, but each time my resolve falls away.
But a few visits ago it was different. I had a game plan, as per usual, and I had gotten myself out the door the first morning there for my workout. While I was running I remembered this idea of returning and retrieving those parts of yourself that were left behind. I was thinking about picking up those pieces and filling in the puzzle, of making myself whole. I was thinking about how hard it can be for me to stick to my guns when I’m here, and then it dawned on me that it’s because the things that I’ve learned that drive me forward are not things I learned here in my childhood home. I learned some wonderful things in this place, don’t get me wrong. But I also learned how to be quiet, and how to stay out of the way. I learned how to not need anything and how to not be direct or make waves or ask questions. And I definitely learned it’s not okay to be different. But I was different. I learned long before cancel culture that the silent threat of being canceled was looming if I went rogue from my culture. And that’s when I understood: what better place is there to pick up those pieces than in the place I lost them in the first place? What only place is there to pick up the pieces but the place I lost them in the first place? Those pieces are here, and only here. So now my visits have an added mission: the quest to make myself whole.
Now I run through my childhood hometown to become who I was always supposed to be. And I run through my current hometown to continue to affirm who I am. Maybe I'll go visit those other places that have been significant in my life and have myself a good run there, too--pick up who I left behind and add her in to who I'm becoming.
And I most definitely I will continue to go to new places and run, feeling more whole and knowing that there is still more to come.