I’ve been thinking for the last couple of days about community, and belonging. Kristen’s post about whether certain perspectives are too familiar to push her to expand her thinking triggered it. Some of the comments, which referred to a community of bloggers who share a certain attitude about the world, made me think more.
I’ve spent my life feeling like I don’t really fit in anywhere. There are myriad places where I feel like I have one foot in the space, but nowhere I feel I really belong. I often have the sense of hovering around the perimeter of any group that I am with, of being a pale ghost floating over my own life, observing rather than participating. This no doubt contributes to my assumption of the role of photographer: some degree of remove helps in that position. At least with a camera in my hands there is something specific to do, a concrete task with which to busy myself so I don’t dwell on how awkward I feel.
I rarely feel comfortable to be fully myself, to reveal the deepest fears of my heart, to trust my affiliation with a group or even an individual. When I do find someone – and the truth is, there isn’t a group I can say this about, and only a tiny handful of people – with whom I can truly breathe and speak from my heart, the startled relief I feel can be overwhelming. I feel I am coming out of Plato’s cave, realizing that all of those other relationships and experiences were shadows, blinking my eyes in the dizzying, blinding sunlight. And then what follows is intense fear that this person, this key to a world of both glorious color and deep comfort, will leave me.
I’ve taken harsh, harsh criticism over the years for trying too hard to “fit in” to various groups. For being a chameleon who becomes what others want me to be. But what was – and still is – my alternative? To be lonely all of the time? I suppose I should be strong enough not to need or seek relationship or identification with a group or community. Yes, that is what I should be, but I’m just not. I am not an island. I wish I was. I wish I was confident and strong enough to not need a sense of belonging, but I’m not. Of course what I know now is that to be in a group and not feel engaged or fully present is actually more lonely than just being alone.
A desire to belong – to fit in – has haunted my entire life. I have ached, for years, to truly fit in somewhere. And I don’t. I guess I’m starting to accept that: I am perhaps too much of a kaleidoscope, too multi-faceted but also too fragmented, to really have a single place I “fit.” But it’s time for me to be gentler myself about this need, and to recognize it as a human impulse. Over the years I have emphasized certain things about myself and de-emphasized others in an effort to “pass,” and I’m mortified by some silly choices I may have made, but I haven’t ever done anything truly hurtful or amoral in this effort.
I suppose it’s all about recognizing, as Toni Morrison said, that “you are your own best thing.” If I could know that, maybe I’d long to belong a little less. Perhaps recognizing it is the first step. At least I hope so.