I’ve always felt the outsider. I remember when the girls in the complex were jumping rope, singing the rhymes that matched the rhythm of the rope hitting the pavement, they would jump in the middle in perfect time, finish the rhyme and jump out again without missing a beat or tripping on the rope.
I, on the other hand, only ever got tangled in any attempt to join in an already-moving rope, and I never knew the rhymes they sang. I had to ask them the stop the rope and start from a stand-still position. Even then, I couldn’t always get the timing right on exiting and they’d have to start over again anyway. Sure, maybe the other girls weren’t perfect at it either, but I must hold the record for wrecking the streak.
So I’d rather climb the trees with the boys, hollering at each other from the tops, peering down at the girls and throwing needles and pine cones down from our hiding place. But that changed when my body changed. The boys would rather steal glances down my shirt than play games.
At first, when I went to the new school, I was interesting to the other kids. The rest had known each other since kindergarten, and a mere three years later, I was one of the first new kids in the class. The novelty wore off, and I was left with a ragamuffin group of friends (not that I’m complaining, mind you – some friends are better than none). By the time I left that school – half-way through grade six – I was all but a pariah.
At the next school, I was a pariah. The other kids wore brand names, and my parents, who had spent the majority of our money on a private school until then, didn’t buy those brands. I wore hand-me-downs from the 80′s, big sweaters that came to my knees, floral patterned leggings. The class in particular was rough – until then, I’d never heard a kid swear, let alone at the teacher. One kid punched another in the hallway while we were working on a project. And the quality of education? Well, one kid got his nose broken for confusing the words “klutz” and “slut”.
The first year of high school (grade eight, for many of us Canadians) was the absolute worst. Where before I had some friends, I now had zero. Absolutely no one wanted me around. Literally. I really struggled with that. I had always been timid, shy even, and certainly the wardrobe didn’t do me any favours. I had a weird lock-jaw incident that kept me out of school for three weeks. A sort of transformation occurred. I lost some weight, started dressing less like Blossom and more modernly (although I was still short brand names and painfully aware of that sometimes), and I decided I didn’t care what other people thought of me anymore – my identity was in Christ Jesus and no one could take that from me.
It took almost a whole school semester before that last tactic had any impact, but it worked. By the end of grade eight, I was fairly confident of who I was (albeit still a bit of a loner – at least it was by choice this time). And after that, high school really wasn’t that bad.
But one thing has never really changed. Even though I don’t exactly care what other people think of me (to a degree – obviously, I do try and change gross misconceptions where it’s within my power), I still find it hard to fit in.
As a young adult, when most people my age seemed more interested in drinking and partying, I was mentoring youth and teaching Sunday School, volunteering at the church’s food bank and dinner. Even now, there are people in my community who I feel like I should get to know better because we are close in age and/or have kids the same age, etc., and I don’t feel like our interests (and sometimes, it even comes down to morals and values) line-up enough to make a connection. Other times, that fear of rejection pops up and prevents me from even making an effort where I truly do wish to get to know someone better.
Yet, shortly after I started blogging again, and reading other blogs on the internet, I felt like I had finally found like-minded people, like I could belong somewhere. Deep down, however, there is a still small voice that says these people really wouldn’t like me if they met me in person, or got to know me better than a computer screen might allow.
So far, at least one person in particular has proved me wrong. When we went to Denver at the end of April, one dear heart made a point of meeting up with us. We went to lunch together and spent a lovely hour and a half just talking over good food, getting to know each other a little better, and enjoying good company.
Despite my nervousness at meeting Shanda and her husband Matt, they had such a calm manner about them, they set me at ease almost immediately (Tim didn’t need to be set at ease, he thrives on meeting new people and he had no expectations). Shanda expressed such genuine excitement and love, it nearly brought me to tears.
I’m so thankful for the opportunity to connect. My only wish, as with much of the Denver trip, is that we could have stayed longer, or brought people back with us.
I am blessed by this Church-outside-of-church, these people whose words I read, who read my words, whom we’ve met sometimes just because we like the same band. When I feel like I cannot connect in person, I am reminded that there is a network of people right here who are helping me grow.
And maybe someday I won’t feel so awkward in real life.