Dark. Rain pouring and wind gusting. Miles of traffic backed up and at standstills on multiple major thoroughfares due to wrecks. Headlights and brake lights fusing into disorienting patterns of light.
This was the scene on our drive to school this morning. I felt as if a really talented movie producer had instructed a cameraman to pan out wide, all across the city, the shot would feel so disjointed. So stressed. So edgy and isolated.
I took a long and rather wandering route home across side streets and through neighborhoods, simply to avoid the chaos of a gridlocked interstate, and even still, things were so snarled, and so little could really be seen, that I felt like I was in a video game of sorts, just trying to dodge all the distraction and make it alive to the castle or the stone with special powers or what have you.
I felt lost. Alone in my own community–a place where I have undoubtedly have a tribe, places where I belong, and a safe, warm, beloved home…but even so….
I’m not sure there is much that can wreak more havoc on our souls and well-being than feeling as if we don’t belong.
Even if we know we are loved. Even if we do have folks we interact with every day. Even if there are those in our lives that we care deeply for. Still, feeling that we don’t quite have a spot where we just fit can tear at the edges of our hearts in really painful ways.
And we really, really, in these United States, in this day and time, have trouble with true belonging, with feeling anchored, at port, no matter if the day is calm or stormy.
I know a middle schooler struggling mightily with that these days. And I talked with a bright, beautiful, talented young adult this week who does, too. And one of my most favorite people in the world, expressed to me last night the same feelings of disconnection as that middle schooler and that young adult. Which is to say, y’all, this need to belong, it knows no bounds of age or stage in life. We are, as brilliant researcher Brene Brown says, “hardwired,” for belonging, for real relationship.
And when we’re adrift, feeling aimless, not sure where to look for a northern star to guide us home, we feel so very vulnerable. So anxious. So uncertain. So lost.
I’ve known the rough landscape of not belonging. Of feeling like my own life story is unfolding in ways that make me too different to relate to, to damaged for anyone to want to include, to much a failure for anyone to want to claim me. I wanted to crawl inside myself. Hide inside the pain. Never come out, because to do so would mean facing all those people whose lives were still in order.
External appearance and false influence about what does or doesn’t really matter in life doesn’t help. Because even if you know, deep in your bones, that the size of your bank account or your house isn’t the measure of a person, even if you really do believe that the best legacy we can leave is how we loved, how we treated others…even still, it is mighty difficult to keep your head up when all your friends are taking fancy vacations, or all your married friends still have intact relationships, or your Instagram and/or Facebook don’t seem to quite be keeping up with the Joneses.
God, y’all, we’re so hard on each other and on ourselves. Not single one of us has a perfect life. Such a thing is pure myth.
I know a person who I perceive as incredibly selfish, who engages in a particular sort of manipulation of others every single day that makes my insides rage. And the only way–the only way–I am able to keep my cool around this person, to practice even the tiniest sliver of compassion (and therefore not give into my boiling blood…) is to recognize that such rampant self-centeredness must be rooted in such tremendous, unhealed, vicious pain…of having known what it is to not belong, and having never dealt with it. And so, as Glennon Doyle says, the hot potato of this person’s pain just keeps getting tossed around, damaging everyone in its path.
(And, there’s also this: I am confident, too, that I sometimes wield my own pain in ways that hurt others. I’m so, so sorry….)
What I know for sure is that I don’t want go through this life–and I don’t want anyone else to have to, either–like I drove back home this morning–so anxious and lost and frenetic…so not belonging to the world around me, rather, just trying to survive it.
I’ve no idea what the fix is, what a path towards healing for all of us might be, but I suspect it has to do with more kindness. More willingness to talk to each other. More bravery–the kind that steps away from some jacked-up notion of perfect status and embraces flawed humanity. I suspect it means caring less about how others might perceive us and just working towards authenticity in our behavior and in our conversation. I suspect it means being willing to share each other’s pain instead of running blind from it, and I suspect it means having enough courage to face our own hidden fears and insecurities and traumas.
And that, my friends, is all terrifying work.
May your journey home today include someone who says, “I love you.” Someone who takes your hand in his. Someone who includes your well-being in her own. Someone who simply lets you know you matter. Baby steps, sure, and not a one of them the single answer…but it sure beats driving home in the dark of an angry fall storm with no clear path in sight.
Somewhere, you belong.