Alone and lonely might sound like synonyms, but for me, they are often worlds apart. I have been in the midst of a party and felt completely lost and isolated, not comforted or connected to the raucous crowd around me. I’ve also been camping by myself on the side of a mountain and felt happy and peaceful without the slightest hint of disconnect.
As an introvert with a very social job and a very limited amount of energy, I am often very happy to be alone. Quiet time where I can just sit and read, write, or sometimes (on those not sleeping at all days) stare blankly at the wall is something that I cherish.
But, as a human, I need to feel connected to people. As much as I might tell you that I don’t like people, at the end of the day, it just isn’t true. I don’t like crowds, or parties, I especially don’t like socializing with groups of people I don’t know. But, I do, not only like, but also value the people who populate my world.
Although the working of my brain has been slow, sluggish and painfully foggy in the last weeks, it has not escaped me that I would not have made it through if it weren’t for the kind words and support from all of you. The stories and words of encouragement that you’ve shared have helped more than you probably know.
They’ve helped because no matter how terrible things have been (and this couple weeks has ranked second only to the week that I spent thinking I was going to die of malaria in a hospital in Ghana), I have not felt alone. I have felt seen, heard and cared for; I have felt connected.
I’ve always believed it when it came to the children I teach. I’ve seen over and over again the difference between kids with stable home lives, where they have a sense of safety and belonging, and those who don’t. One of my objectives each and every school year is to create a classroom where everyone can feel like they belong. It’s more important to me than reading levels or math pathways, it is perhaps more important than any other objective I have in my classroom. Kids who don’t feel like they belong, don’t flourish, it’s as simple as that.
It’s interesting for me to realize that although I have known for 17 years that I need to work to ensure that my students (and then my children) have a sense of belonging, I’ve never thought to look at it in my own life. At least not until now.
As a kid, I was not popular and my school mates were always good at making sure I didn’t forget it. I grew up in a wealthy community where I was continually reminded that I didn’t belong and wasn’t wanted. I learned to be very independent at a young age and for a long time I thought that independent meant that I didn’t need anyone. Relying on people meant being let down. It felt safer to go it alone.
Except that it isn’t.
Humans are pack animals and pack animals don’t feel safe when they’re alone. We need each other in practical and fundamental ways (not to mention social and emotional ones). We
need to know we are accepted as part of the pack. We need to belong.
Especially when things go wrong.
These past weeks, I have needed you. I’ve needed to feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself. I’ve needed to feel the delicate web that binds us all to each other. The stories and words of encouragement that you have shared with me have been a kind of light that has kept me moving forward, even when it felt like there was nowhere to go.
In the last few downward spiraling months, I’ve felt like a ship lost in a stormy sea. Hope has been in short supply, but every time I thought I was completely lost, there was another lighthouse, calling me back, directing me towards home.
Thank you for being my lighthouse. I hope in sharing with me and spreading your acceptance, you also feel a sense of belonging. I hope you feel how much you matter.
I don’t have any amazing concrete health news to share with you this week. I haven’t become a sleeping ninja or mastered the art of a healthy immune system, but I have stopped getting worse. In the last few days, my sleep has shown some improvement and I’ve even felt like I could smile without wincing. This may not sound earth shattering, but after months of a steady decline, I feel very thankful and maybe even hopeful.
Continue in the kindness and acceptance you share out into the world. Know that for every time you take a second to reach out in empathy to make that connection, you make the world a better place. And a better place is something that we can all use.