I’ve never felt like I belonged. I’ve written songs about it, filled many journals with it and known this for what seems like an eternity. But I’ve never said it out loud. It’s a “Truth” I carry around or rather drag around like a child’s tattered and worn favorite blanket. This desire for belonging is always with me even if I’ve forgotten it’s there.
When I saw these women on the streets of Venice, I started taking their picture. I think my “Truth” about not belonging told me to. I loved the way one of them had her arm hooked through the arm of another woman — a woman with a cane that needed a little extra steadiness as she walked. I loved how they were all in dresses. I loved their “threeness” and their spacing.
I had no idea where they were going, but my camera did. My camera focused on the woman in the distance. See the beautiful smiling soul on the far left side? The one rocking the sunglasses and a beautiful print dress? Her. She and her companion were the destination.
I first realized that I didn’t feel like I belonged in 3rd grade. We moved from California to Arkansas. My new teacher didn’t want me in her class. She didn’t think the California education system had prepared me to be in her advanced Arkansas class. (Yes, I know. We are talking about 8 year olds here. Kinda silly. But yet, true it is.) My mother thought differently. My mother won. But my teacher won too. She and my classmates didn’t think I belonged. So of course, I didn’t either.
But it was Junior High when my “Truth” became solidified. Sitting in the front of my Biology class — I loved school and learning. The front of the class was the best place to hear, see and participate. Take pity on 7th grade me please. — I was passed a note from my friend group. My friend group consisted of about 5-7 seventh grade girls. Everyone of them had signed it. Every single one. The note was an homage to all of my faults, behaviors and general uniqueness that they could no longer put up with. I was out. I no longer belonged. I wasn’t sure I would ever recover. And of course, I never told anyone. Ever.
Imagine my surprise when I attended a women’s retreat and part of the events one night included a skit where a bunch of junior high girls (all played by adult women that had volunteered to take to the stage) give a note to one of their unsuspecting group members and tell her she’s no longer included. WHAT?!??! You mean the story that I had nurtured and retold to myself at least a million times didn’t only happen to me? I was over 40 years old when I attended that retreat and learned that I even though “each one of us is special,” I am not always special in how I’ve been hurt and in how my pain has impacted my life.
Nevertheless, I took my childhood stories, added several from high school and college and placed them all in a metaphorical file called Elusive Search for Belonging and placed it in my metaphorical box labeled Shame. And on some unmarked date in my mid 30s, I gave up the search.
When the women came to together, it was non stop talking! I do not understand a single word of Italian but I easily understood the talk of friends. The sound of belonging.
I know that these Italian women may not all feel like they belong. I know their friendship may not be perfect. But what I do know is for a moment in time, they met on the street. They had business together that day. Maybe it was an official group working on an event, maybe they were all part of a club, or maybe they are lifetime friends that grew up together in the historical center of Venice. Or, maybe, the Universe put them together for me to see and for me to believe that belonging is findable for each of us.
I’m 54 as I write this. And I think it’s time. I think it’s time for me to put on a pair of super cool sunglasses, my favorite print dress and go looking for Belonging! I have a feeling She’s been waiting for me for a long, long time.
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