It was a morning of celebration. Anticipation—children’s squeals and cries and mothers hushing them to a more indoor friendly tone—and singing filled the room. I hardly knew anyone, but I decided maybe it was worth showing up anyway.
We (or they?) were celebrating years of being a family, this conglomerate of people I was still getting to know. Little nuclear families—young, babies raising babies—and couples blended within the larger framework; I felt oddly betrayed as a unit of one.
It was a morning of celebration, and I was sitting a few rows deep into it feeling anything but celebratory.
We took a group photo outside on the church steps. I was somehow pulled into the middle of the cluster. How ironic, I thought, to be surrounded by a group of strangers while smiling for a family celebration. It just goes to show that pictures do a good amount of lying.
I’m not about to rant about being single versus being married—we have enough of those blogs already. Besides, it’s not even so much about wanting to be married as it is wanting to just belong. I desperately crave it, perhaps more than I should.
I’m not alone; why else do we seek out a forever mate or purchase Best Friends Forever necklaces, splitting the heart between two? It’s wired into our core selves, this need to belong.
And after 26 years of fighting and loving and hurting, I have found it to be true more than ever before.
So the irony of being smack in the middle of a giant church body—a family—posing for a picture entirely on my own, walking to my car and going home unaccounted for as people hug goodbye or carry children to their car… well, some days it’s just too much.
Will I ever find my way out of this muggy and treacherous season known as process? Will I ever be able to leave loneliness at the table so it can go home with someone else instead of me? When did I commit to being its designated driver?
And the worst question of all, the one I find reverberating off the walls of my soul far too often: will I ever belong?
“What do you fear the most? Today.”
Her question set me back. I fear a lot of things, was my first thought. Then: Why is she asking me this? We talk twice a month about my fears. I sit on this couch and pay money to exhaust my fears out of my being. Am I just supposed to pick one for an answer?
To be honest, I don’t remember my response, but I remember it surprising me. While I knew quite a bit about my large life fears, I didn’t know what my worst fear was for that ordinary Wednesday. I hadn’t allowed myself the commodity of checking in to ask. That was her job—my counselor’s—anyway… right?
I’ve been learning about the soul lately. Perhaps learning is too strong of a word, but maybe not. It is terribly funny, isn’t it, to have a soul dwelling within us and to not know a lick about it. Our subconscious knocks on our door, our heartbeat pounding to get our attention, and we just ignore them. We don’t have time. There are people to please, boxes to check, things to purchase. All our human attempts to silence the pain and disbelief and longing.
Anyway, the soul. It’s supposed to be perfect. It was created as such, once. One day it will be again (entirely unrelated to our own efforts). For now we live in a dark and murky world, with grey truths and heart wrenching goodbyes.
And we don’t like that. Thus our human attempts to satisfy.
I’m not exempt, though I wish I was. This blog wouldn’t exist if I were; my soul is scarred and jaded just like yours. There are pieces that have broken off and gone missing. I don’t know if or when I’ll get them back—perhaps when I work in tandem with lots of counseling and even more with grace.
Yet there consistently remains one large fragment. It feels impossible to mend or heal. Loneliness. Some people call it by other names: rejection, codependency, introverted. However faulty or correct their terminology is, I have lived with this displacement for years. It comes and goes. It’s what crops up when my counselor asks questions like, “what is your biggest fear today?” It’s the root of most all my other fears, I think.
And that root is what ties me up and leaves me hanging when I find myself in the middle of a crowd that refers to themselves as family, who cheer and celebrate while I beg to be seen, heard, known.
I am not just left alone; I am left lonely. Not just on that Wednesday in my counselor’s office, but today. I fear I’ll be lonely forever, with the question, “is it me? Am I the problem?” lodged in my throat. I’ll choke on those words, my tombstone carved with them.
For us human beings, it’s hard to be. Ironically we’re called just that, beings, yet we rarely portray our namesake well.
Whenever I hear the word be or beings, I think back to my time in Guatemala. A few times a week, we would visit the sweetest and saltiest group of seniors I’d ever met. Some of them had about as much common sense as the few teeth they had left; others were confined to wheelchairs or beds; and even still were those who remained alert and alive, but seemed to merely exist. Very little purpose thrived inside the walls of that place, where the old came to die.
We would visit a few times a week. My Spanish sorely lacking—their English not much better—conversations ended abruptly after broken hellos and introductions. Much of our time, then, was spent sitting with them. Just being.
Every day, the majority of them were wheeled out or walked to the open air hallways. The hallways encircled a courtyard, boasting of tropical greenery and a fountain. Every open space against a wall sat a person–waiting, being. Glazed stares, mindless muttering, swatting flies away. We routinely did the same.
I learned a lot about just being during my time there. And I hated it.
It was so hard to just be, no task to distract thoughts, very little purpose—or perhaps what we think of as purposeful—to make us feel better about ourselves, both us and them.
But I also learned the importance of showing up. There was so much joy in just showing up for them. They smiled, leaned in to the rhythm of the guitar and our voices, closed their eyes. They relaxed. Showing up, it turned out, meant more to them than perhaps anything else we attempted to do.
They just wanted us to exist with them. To be.
I hold on to that memory, and I hold on to its lesson: to just show up. A couple months ago now, after returning from a pilgrimage in Spain, those words graced my spirit one discontent, broken morning. Show up. Just keep showing up. It was the same whisper I remembered as I drove home alone that celebratory, lonely Sunday.
And it’s the encouragement I pass on to you today. Another thing I’ve noticed in my 26 years is that we often don’t give our little human selves enough credit. Not in the “I’m the CEO of such and such company, so I’m the best” sense, but in the “I’m a vulnerable and naked soul and I struggle with aspects of life, too” kinda way. You know, the gritty and honest kind.
It’s the encouragement I pass on because you need to know the importance of your sweet and hurting soul. You need to know that others sometimes melt into your hugs but don’t know how to tell you that with words.
That your presence exudes humble confidence in the most brilliant way—even if your insides scream otherwise. That while you may hate everything about yourself today, just showing up could change someone else’s life. Sometimes we can’t offer anything else of ourselves than to show up and be physically present. Don’t underestimate the power of such an overlooked act.
Anxiety, fear, and loneliness will beg you to stay home. They’ll try to convince you to sit in a church row and grieve while everyone around you is celebrating. Don’t let it win. Grieve when necessary, but stand back up again.