They say everyone needs a community. Someplace where you feel you belong. Someplace where you can build relationships with others and find meaningful ways to serve. Someplace that challenges you to grow. Someplace where you’ll fit in. But is there a place like that? Is there a place where you’ll fit in but also be challenged? Is there a place where you’ll always feel like you belong? Is there a place where your ego will both be gently nursed but also stretched into something new? Do we even need places like that? Do I need it?
I don’t know.
As a child, I played alone a lot. I had a few friends on my block that I would do things with, but not every day. I had a few friends I could talk to and hang out with at school, but not every day. Mostly, I took my dog for walks to the local park, played with one of many small mammals and reptiles I took care of, and went for long walks alone on the hill behind my house or to the apartment complex across the street that had gorgeous lakes and waterfalls to play in. I never felt bored. And I never wanted for company, because I never feel like I needed company. I was a lone wolf, and I was happy.
Even in school, I held out for a long time. If I wasn’t purposefully eating alone in some quiet corner of campus, then I’d have lunch with anyone who else was alone and didn’t look like they wanted to be. I’d go in and out of conversations in class with anyone I was near. I felt like I could talk to anyone, and it seemed like everyone was fine with me being a floater. Popular, nerd, geek, intellectual, outcast, newbie, it didn’t matter. It never felt awkward, and it didn’t seem like anyone was treating me differently for being different, though it never ingratiated me enough to any one group to earn me an invite to parties. That was probably a good thing. I heard their parties wouldn’t have been my type of fun anyway.
Overtime, I was sucked in to the need to be part of a school group. I’m still not sure how, but I remember what it felt like to have my ego worshipped by people who thought I was smart or funny. Nothing good came from any of those experiences. I learned some stuff, but none of it brought me happiness. I lost myself every day at school, and found myself every afternoon in the woods of the California hills, alone with only a dog or horse for a companion. Even when I had a boyfriend who also liked horses, I’d give him about an hour of my afterschool time and then I was gone. I invited him out to the woods one time, and never did it again.
When I got to college, I was alone again, but this time I had no afterschool escape, and the groups were too exaggerated for me to maintain my ungroupness. Living in the dorms at a heavily religious school, I only had two choices. It was either be part of the “in” group who spent hours on their appearance and knew all the ways to look cute when laughing at the boys’ dumb jokes, or be branded a rebel. So, rebel it was.
There was something unknown and unpredictable about me and that was intimidating. Even when I’d try to just fit in, I knew that the lingering smell of mystery about me was keeping people from really letting me in. So, I owned it and just did my own thing. I learned how to get control of any room I was in. If I couldn’t do it by being a better version of them than they were, then I knew I could do it by being radically different. It gave me power. I was addicted to the way it felt. I hated it. Sometimes I wasn’t up for it, and I’d just stay home.
I bought a car the first chance I got, and started spending a lot of time driving around Utah by myself. But the pull to the power was too strong, and I eventually succumbed and started playing the same old games with all new people. When the life of drugs, sex, and alcohol exhausted itself, I let the church culture that surrounded me reclaim me as its own. I found new groups to try to navigate within the church. I couldn’t let myself be vulnerable and still belong, so the addiction to controlling how others saw me kept me playing a game I never wanted to play. I encased my true self in a stone of acceptance and belonging, in community. But I couldn’t hide the fact that deep down inside I didn’t really need any of them, and that made me edgy.
One day, I met a guy who liked my edginess. I don’t know what was wrong with him, but Shiloh seemed to love me just as I was. And he saw that the edginess wasn’t just a way to keep people away, but it was the part of me that just wanted to be free to love and live without having to play games, like I used to as a child. I fell in love with him so fast. So fast that I even had a hard time accepting it. What was this feeling? It didn’t ask me live in a new cage, and it made me want to be with him forever. I’d never felt that way before. It took me longer than it should have to just rest into it. He’s been my greatest blessing, and I love him with all the fierceness of my wild soul.
I’d fight with my feelings about belonging in groups for years. The church emphasizes community and belonging, but conditionally, and in a way that made me always feel like I had to be careful. I would let myself be a little vulnerable, but only enough to push boundaries. Any more than that and you could get yourself in trouble. I love that there are communities out there for people who are drawn to that. I love that those who get strength from others, whether by serving in the community or learning from it, have those opportunities. I won’t twist my experience into an opinion that community is inherently unneeded. But I’ve got to start chipping away at the marble that has kept my heart from beating.
Maybe I’m alone in this. I’d be totally fine if that were the case. Maybe I don’t need a community. At least not the traditional large community of church or work or school or neighborhood. I have some good friends who I love and would do just about anything for, so I guess there’s that, and that feels like community too, but I don’t need them to fit any sort of mold in order for them to stay that way, so it also feels different than what most people call community. And I definitely often feel in community with all of humanity. I can sense the oneness, particularly when I’m practicing presence. I don’t want to strain over the many meanings of the word. This is pondering more than preaching.
I know how good it can feel to be validated and accepted, to feel like you belong somewhere specific and definable. I know that plenty of people are authentically happy living and working in these larger communities. And there’s value in talking to people outside of you’re small friend group for sure. But trying to be a permanently attached to a large group can also too easily be a drug for me. Trying to belong either exhausts me and drains me of my natural energy, or I take a hit from the good opinions of others and get high on being liked. I’m truly happiest as a lone wolf. And lone wolves, inextricably connected to their environment, play an important role in a healthy ecosystem, even when they aren’t a permanent part of a large pack.
So, I’m giving myself permission to follow my heart. To have peace. To find joy.
Joy in the incredible mystery of all things. The vastness and wholeness of our natural world. The beautiful stories and experiences of those I’m blessed to cross paths with. My family and friends and all who I meet day by day. Relationships that have no obligations, that can ebb and flow without judgement. Love for love’s sake, without needing an ethic to shackle it to rightness. The edges where the light mixes with the darkness, where the sacred and the profane bleed into each other. The magic of perfect moments of connection that don’t rely upon permanence to make them what they are. And just sitting, alone and quiet, where God is free to speak, or not, and everything is good, and everything belongs.