It’s September 11th, which of course means many remembrances of an important crisis in our national and global communities. And yet a simple trolling of my facebook feed makes it clear how many disparate communities we contain — those who are celebrating first responders; those who celebrate patriotism; those who celebrate humanity broadly. There are those grieving particular losses; those grieving a loss of national innocence; those grieving a time when our world seemed kinder. And there are many of us who don’t post about these issues at all, assuming perhaps that our diverse sympathies and consciences are present where our social media messages are not.
But somehow for me the most important element of this day was stumbling upon Wentworth Miller’s speech to the Human Rights Campaign. (Watch it here.) In it, Miller (or Went, as we called him in undergrad) opens up some vast and intimate elements of his life, including his sense from childhood of never having been in community. In fact, he says, the notion of community, of a “we,” “felt like a lie.”
The resonance for me was extreme, though for different reasons. But the central experience of being alone, without comradeship or support, without any sense of safety net or solidarity, is one we shared. (It makes me wish mightily that I’d really gotten to know him in undergrad, but like many people, I was so busy “passing” for a happy, well-adjusted person that I didn’t have time — or know how — to make real connections.) At any rate, his words and concepts have haunted me all day.
And of course it happens that I watch his speech on my way to a project of sending notes to some former colleagues, so I’m really sweating this primal issue of non-belonging as I leaf through their wonderful engagements that ARE NOT MINE. I’m reading up on cool projects and new organizations and brilliant upcoming conferences that I’M NOT A PART OF. And it makes me sad. Deep down, bone-weary, age-old sad. And I try to comfort myself with thoughts of this community I’ve built…but I’m reminded again that we still don’t feel IN COMMUNITY here. It’s nice to have more friends, but the only time we’ve had a network, a net, a community per se is when we lived in a small town in northeastern Iowa and made amazing friends working at the same small college. There may have been some crying for what we’ve lost in the years since.
But what’s interesting to me about all this is the realism I have now. Yes, it’s tainted with cynicism, with self-protection, with a little dash of bitters, but I’m also grateful for what we have. There are many wonderful people in our lives; there are people we can lean on in difficult times; there are challenges and stimulations and love galore. And I AM clear that I want more — that I want it woven more tightly together, that I miss the sense of being on a team, even if that sense is illusory. But knowing this means I can build better, more intentionally, and maybe even find more peace with this place of halfway-there.