Written 15 April 2012
I grew up in a city that demanded very little of its people. With low taxes and below-average schools, I knew that the reverse was true as well. The people demanded very little of their city. You could live there, happily and without incident, for decades. When you went in search of community—as the spirit demands often throughout our lives—it lay in waiting. By not forcing—or even asking—people to join the community at large, they stood in the shadows with open arms.
The sense of belonging has always been a strain in my life. I believe the same will be true for almost all of my readers. We look for romantic belonging in our relationships. We look for communicative belongs in our friendships. We look for spritual belonging from our community. In my 23 years of life, I have found that—although drastic in their differences—the three belong together. From your community, you find your friends. From your friends, you find love. When you cut yourself off from your community, you cut all sense of belonging.
In my hometown, it was easy. For my early life, my community was my school. When school stood behind me, I found myself at a loss. Where was I to find my community? For years, I found myself cut off at the knees. With no community, I watched as my as my friendships faded. As my friendships faded, my love life became non-existent. I knew I had to find a replacement for school. Where would I find such a place?
I live in America. When I talk about community as an adult, the first instinct of many is Church. I was not raised in a church. Regardless, my spiritual beliefs are strong. I am agnostic. I believe in a higher power. I do not identify that higher power in any way—human, living, conscious, etc. As a result, I find most mainstream religion a bit difficult. If I do not see my higher power as conscious, how can see it as a miracle-worker? Even more to the point—how can I believe he walked this Earth?
I tried three separate Christian Churches in my hometown. They were all incredible. In a city where nothing is demanded of anyone, people tend towards where they belong. I found open arms and plenty of conversation. For almost a year I attended these places. Although the community was beautiful, I knew I didn’t belong. For the foreseeable future, I cannot see Jesus as anything but a wonderful man. Every time he was referred to as Savior or the Son of God, I felt myself casted out.
In my final months in my hometown, I finally figured it out. The Unitarian Universalist Church. A small community of people with an assortment of beliefs that band together for the sack of community. It was beautiful. People would talk to me with genuine interest. I never felt the uneasy conversation where you realize someone is trying to save your soul from eternal damnation. No. This place was the only place I could find where all beliefs were welcome. Eccentrics were our guides.
I moved away from my hometown at the age of 22. In my new city, I knew that finding a community was vital. On the first Sunday that I lived here, I found the Unitarian Universalists. From the moment I walked in, something was different. The place was massive. The congregation was so large that they had overspill seating and a second sermon time. I sat and waited for the service to begin. No one greeted me. Back home, my nerves were taken as pleas for company by the congregation. That was no longer the case.
I believed that the sermon would be enough to put me at ease. Maybe I would meet some people afterwards. As the sermon carried on, however, I knew I was alone. He talked about the importance of materialism. A huge part of my specially packaged spirituality is based off the idea that possessions hold us back. I am a minimalist. With no one to talk to and no sense of spiritual belonging, I left without a word.
I’ve learned a lot about my city in the months that I’ve lived here. Unlike my hometown, it does ask its people for a lot. With high taxes and incredible schools, I find the sense of belonging and community to be drastically different from what I grew up with. Since the people of this city feel like they have a sense of duty, community outreach is mainstream. How strange. I grew up in a world where community was a personal choice. I move to a place where it became an obligation.
I tried the Unitarian Universalist service again today. It was the same. I did, however, notice something different today. The State Senator for our city was present. That’s when it hit me. In a city where community is an obligation, hierarchy becomes natural. Back home, every community I became a part of was a collection of equals. Suddenly the real world came crashing down on me. In a city where community is an obligation, the community will organize itself accordingly.
I find myself, now, wondering what comes next. The community I so desperately need is organized like a business. I must pay my dues and work as a grunt in order to be accepted. It puts the last few months into perspective. Every time I tried to find my community, I expected open arms. That was never the case—and never will be. The next time I attempt to infiltrate the community at large, I will understand that much is expected of me. I do not like it, but I do not have an option. I need a community as much as I need friends as much as I need love.
What if I am wrong? No matter how much evidence I see to the contrary, I fear that I may be seeing what I want to see. What if this community is no different from what I know? What if, instead, it is me who has changed? What if I am the one who is regarding the world around me in different terms? It is entirely possible that, as I enter a new phase in my life, I am simply afraid as to how to proceed in structure alien to me.
There is but one thing to do. Try. Poetry Readings. Campaigns. Writing groups. Coffee Houses. Softball teams. Political groups. Hiking. Biking. A community is made up of so many facets. I must suck up my pride and try each facet that interests me. It may be foreign, but the reward is great. I believe that trying will result in a community. From a community, friends will prosper. From friends, love is born. I’ve been on the outskirts for too long. I need to belong.
Read the next political story: Please Take My Guns