One of the things I love most about this writing life is the people whose stories criss-cross your own. We all intersect somewhere in some way but finding those connecting points can be tough. The thing I love most about meeting up with other writers is how quickly we all seem to cut through the small talk and the pleasantries and get right down to it. Words are important and we’d rather not waste them on trivialities. So when my writer friend, Cara Meredith, told me she was vacationing with her family just down the road from me, I hopped in my trusty mini-van and headed over there. I was not disappointed. We talked books, writing life, issues of race and family, and raising kiddos, all in under two hours. I’ve always said #writerfriendsarelegit so I’m thrilled to introduce you to her here on my blog. Here are her words. Enjoy!
It happened again. Belonging struck me dead in the face.
A new group of friends huddled together a month or so ago. We were singled, married, with little kids and big kids and no kids at all. We drank beer and wine and sparkling water, too, and we shoved bites full of kale, sausage and potato soup (a recipe I believe in wholeheartedly when the weather is gray) into our mouths. We dipped torn-off pieces of French bread into small bowls of salted butter, and we let conversation happy, as it normally, naturally, eventually always does.
Until, of course, I broke into the natural flow with a question seeking a specific answer.
We were, after all, a group of Jesus people. We gathered, after all, as a small group within the larger church, and sometimes I’m told that leaders should facilitate conversation, if need be. Regardless, my facilitation wasn’t necessary that night, but I broke into the organic space anyway.
“So, I have a question for everyone,” I said. “Why are you here?” I further implored the values of the group, the key points others may have seen that would have drawn them to us that afternoon: we value a diversity of voices. We, an interracial couple, desire to join in conversation around issues of faith and race. We believe in getting together, despite the messiness of life. We value serving the local community.
Maybe in my moment of self-appointed righteousness I thought heads would nod in agreement, at my brilliance, at our ability to flawlessly pull off a simple, yet gourmet meal in our home. In that way, I think that’s why Adrian’s answer caught me off-guard.
“Well, I don’t know about the rest of you,” he said, looking around the table, “but I’m just here because I want friends. We just want to find our people. We just want to belong.” He looked around the table, first at his wife and their eight-month old son, then at the rest of us sitting around the table.
“What he said!” More than one voice affirmed.
“Yeah, that!” Another voice shouted.
I think the night started and ended right at that very moment. He nailed belonging – the feeling each one of us have for ourselves and for each other, the deep yearning to love and be loved in return – on the head. He struck a chord within each of our hearts because he spoke truths we didn’t yet know how to say. Perhaps he said what the rest of us weren’t brave enough to speak out loud yet. Either way, his honesty brought us together and sent out from there, right then and there; he gave the rest of us permission to dream and to really believe that we might actually be able to be that for each other. He sparked hope in our hearts.
And it’s a funny thing, sometimes, living in an Internet-world. Social media begs us to believe our virtual existence trumps our real-life selves.
I filter pictures so they might appear brighter, shinier, better. I reread and rewrite captions to Instagram pictures, until it’s exactly as I want it to appear. I post articles on Facebook I know my readers will like, because the more I post, and the more popular the articles I schedule, the more the little algorithm elves will reward me. I retweet the posts of popular authors and speakers I admire, because maybe if I do it enough they’ll find me interesting and follow me in return.
And what’s behind it all?
It’s not about being liked, nor is it about finding my tribe. It’s not even about the feel-good feeling that comes when something I write is liked and shared and applauded for its wisdom and wit.
Instead, I just want to belong. I want to find meaning. I want to know that I am loved.
“Every little thing wants to be loved,” Sue Monk Kidd writes in The Secret Life of Bees. I couldn’t agree with her more – but that doesn’t stop me from trying to find it under every nook and cranny.
Oftentimes when I speak, my cell phone comes out as a prop. No matter whether I’m speaking on a Sunday or a Thursday morning, the audience holds one thing in common: we all believe that our cell phones give us life.
We hold the inanimate object in our hands, believing it the most precious newborn we’ve ever seen. Don’t drop it! Careful! Oh, wasn’t that cute? How precious.
We mindlessly stare at the perfectly sculpted pictures of other people living their (filtered, edited, most polished) lives. We believe we’re the only ones who haven’t been invited to the party. We compare ourselves to others – to how much money they have and we don’t have, to how much fun they’re having that we’re not having – and we burrow into a hole of self-pity and envy and maybe a little bit of sadness, too.
But what’s at the root of it?
We want to be known. We want to be understood. We want to know and experience and really, truly believe that at our core we are loved.
So, I don’t know about you, but as for me, I’m trying to hunker down. I’m trying to keep my cell phone in the kitchen drawer during dinner and afterwards when stinky little four and two-year old boys want to play Tickle Monster. I’m attempting to not make it the first and last thing my eyes and my brain and my heart sees and feels and processes when it first wakes up and when it goes to sleep at night. I’m trying to be present with those I love, believing that the life and the love they hold is worth far more than anything an inanimate object could ever give me.
Maybe, when I take these small steps, when I put my phone and my computer out of sight and out of mind, when I choose the presence of people over the glaring presence of social media, I’ll find that I belonged all along.
And isn’t that the point?