Root. | rejoyce letters, vol. 24

Hi Friend, 

Tonight, I fly from NYC to Paris!! I am going to spend two weeks on a solo trip in Europe. :) I am calling it my "Root" trip. 

As I've mentioned before, there are seven Chakras, or energy centers, in the body. The first Chakra is the Root, located at the base of the spine. The Root is a center for safety, security, and basic needs. It provides a foundation for our lives—it is a place of grounding. 

Some say you need both roots and wings to thrive in life. Imagine a tree. It's branches sway in the wind, but you know under the soil there is an intricate, often massive, root system holding it in place. It is solid but flexible. It is alive and growing, and also grounded. 

One reason I'm calling this my "root" trip is I want an excuse to plan seven trips (haha), but a larger aspect is that, through this journey, I'd like to feel more grounded in who I am by acknowledging the homes of my ancestors.

I've never had much family "culture." I'm a white American, somewhat of a "mutt" when it comes to where my ancestors immigrated to the U.S. from: Germany, Czech Republic, France, England, and Ireland. But other than calling my 100% German maternal grandmother "Oma" (German for "grandma") my family had basically zero traditions tracing us back to those countries. (Also, my Oma died when I was in second grade.)

There were many Italian Americans in my hometown, and I was always envious of their seemingly endless Italy-centered family traditions. I remember in third grade or so doing a heritage project, and there were only two children in my class without an Italian flag on their posters: the only black kid in the class, and me.

I realize there are worse fates than not being Italian. [Though I can think of some families who might argue against that point. ;)] I also realize that there are millions of Americans whose ancestors were violently forced against their will to come to this country on slave ships (likely including the ancestors of the only black kid in my class). And there are millions more Americans whose ancestors fled here seeking refuge due to various forms of persecution (the relatively recent German persecution of Jewish people is worth mentioning specifically—though the word "persecution" seems a vast understatement).

It is a privilege that most of my ancestors (to my knowledge) came here by choice. In fact, my maternal grandfather's side got here the second ship after the Mayflower! (That's the English bit of me.) (For the Gilmore Girls fans: though I haven't applied, I could technically be a Daughter of the American Revolution; Emily Gilmore would be proud.) 

And still...when I was growing up, I experienced this pervasive sense of un-groundedness in regards to where I came from. Coming from five disparate far-away European countries can feel like coming from nowhere at all. 

In addition to not identifying with my ancestors' countries of origin, my family also moved around a lot in my early childhood so I didn't even identify with any specific region of the United States. I was born in Nebraska, lived in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids in Iowa, and then moved to a small depressed steel town about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when I was seven. My parents still live there, and have built a community there, but as a kid, it often felt like we were the only ones in town who didn't have nearby aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. It seemed most of my classmates' families had lived in the area for forever. They would say things like, "My grandparents live so far away" when their grandparents lived thirty minutes away on the other side of the Ohio River. Mine lived in Maryland and Nebraska. 

Even today when people ask me where I'm from, and I obviously say Pittsburgh, I still feel the answer isn't wholly true. I know families who are fromPittsburgh. Families full of Penn State and Pitt alumni who might say "yinz" and who definitely bleed black and gold and whose grandpas and great-grandpas all worked in steel. That's not my family. 

I don't want to pitch this as some hugely damaging childhood experience—not having crystal clear roots—it wasn't. It merely surfaced every once in a while as a spurt of discomfort—an undercurrent of not truly belonging in any one place. 

Right now in my life, I am experiencing a strong desire to feel firmly grounded. Mostly I mean grounded in a spiritual or emotional sense, but I think deepening my understanding of my physical lineage could help establish this sense of groundedness. 

So, when I felt called to do solo traveling, I wanted to return to my roots. In Europe, I'm predominately visiting France, Germany, and the Czech Republic. I've never been to any of these places before, and do not speak the languages, so wish me luck. :) I am hoping this "Root" trip will be an opportunity for growth, a time to further expand my perspective, and a time to get in touch with the safety and security in who I am on physical, mental, and spiritual levels. I hope to cultivate a feeling of belonging, perhaps counterintuitively, by going alone where I've never been before.

I guess I believe that all feelings—ultimately—stem from within. And we can spend our whole lives blaming our external circumstances and our less-than-perfect childhoods for our feelings of dissatisfaction, or we can take responsibility for our own emotions, and water the inner fertile soil. We can tend to the roots that are already there inside of us, waiting to be cultivated. Roots that are eager to connect us—to the earth and to our souls and to each other. Roots that want to help us feel grounded within ourselves, if we'd only stop ignoring them. Roots that remind us: You belong now, and you have always belonged. 

As Rumi says:

"Maybe you are searching among the branches, for what only appears in the roots."

with Love and with Light, 


p.s. I am bringing Ann Patchett's novel Bel Canto to read on my trip, among many other books, naturally. (:

p.p.s. I won't send letters on Monday, September 24 or Monday, October 1. The "goal" of my trip is to spend each day doing exactly what I want to we'll see how it unfolds. :) I fly back on October 2 and plan to write you again on October 8. All my previous letters are archived, if you're interested. Namaste. xoxo.