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Monday, January 21, 2008

Fellow Travelers


Just yesterday, I found myself in the car, talking to two preteen girls about, well, about being preteen girls. I mentioned that I never felt as though I really 'fit in' in junior high school and high school. And suddenly, both girls were very still, sitting there in the back seat of our car. Very still, like animals caught in the headlights of a semi. Just before they are flattened. Squish.

Realizing what I'd done, I said, very matter-of-factly, "But of course, now I know that no one feels as though they fit in, really, even the people who are the most popular and self-confident," and I caught a movement, a slight relaxation, in the rear view mirror.

At first, I thought, "Oh, they're so glad to know that everyone feels as awkward as they do!" but while I was patting myself on the back for revealing one of the universe's great secrets, thus saving these two girls a lot of unnecessary grief, I realized that they only relaxed because they decided that I wasn't going to give them away. They knew that I knew they felt as though they didn't fit in; they completely missed the part where I said that everyone feels that way.

In the last three years, I've finally begun to realize that while everyone has doubts and everyone feels alone, that the truth is that we truly are all fellow travelers on this journey. Especially during this last year, when I've made so many wonderful new friends through my blog, I have felt a sense of community. We can share in each other's profound struggles--struggles with depression, and death, and parenting, and love--and yes, we only know each other via the Internet--but while I have cried and cheered for all my internet friends, I've realized that the people that live next door, and down the street, and on the other side of the world, are all struggling with those same issues.

A couple of weeks ago, my daughters and I watched Hairspray, and both girls were baffled by the race issue. Why would it matter if a white girl liked a black boy? That's just silly, they insisted. And I was so grateful that something that would have been a huge issue while I was growing up seems ridiculous to my kids. But in the car yesterday, I realized that while there are always barriers to feeling as though we fit in, the barriers we create in our minds can be just as real as the ones that are created by the society around us.

And today, I wish that I could have given those girls this gift: the knowledge that we are all in this together. I think that perhaps that knowledge only comes with time, and with friendship, and with honesty. I'm just hoping it doesn't take them forty-four years to look around and recognize all the fellow travelers. This journey's a lot more bearable when you're not alone.

16 comments:

Chris said...

Amen, and pass the ice-cream (the universal consolation "I don't fit in" prize.)

Shari said...

I have 2 pre-teen girls and I'm going through this stuff, too. I'd love to help spare them from all of the middle school pain.

Julie Prichard said...

I really like the light colored backgrounds you've been making the last few days, Karen!

Frances said...

Boy do I remember my not fitting in days at school.
Actually all my school days were not fitting in days.
My grandmother who liked to fit in would get so exhausted with me.
I can still hear asking me, "Why do you have to be different?"
Thanks for sharing,
Frances

Olivia said...

Great post, Karen. I agree with you. We're all the same. xxoo, O

tumblewords said...

It does take many years to know that we are all alike - strange about us, isn't it? Nice post.

Sue said...

Oh perfect!

I'll share this with Eve.

Maybelline Jones said...

Karen, you are truly a sage after this post. Thanks for so clearly describing what all of us are feeling.

Angela said...

I think some things are meant to be learned later in life so you realize what a precious gift it is. Beautiful post and beautiful artwork.

Christy said...

thank you for letting me have a glimpse into your garage and your life. As the mother of three girls still struggling to find their place in the world I could really relate to this piece. Heartwarming words.

Lynn said...

So well written spoken painted picture of teen angst for us here, adult angst too, and yes, isn't this blogland a wonderful ground for forming friendships, and do you think teens develop them as well in My Space or other teen blogs?
Perhaps because their brains are not as developed yet they don't have the ability and life skills yet to feel they fit, really fit in.
I so did not fit...but now I look back and had I known me then I would have loved to be my friend, I was cool in my own aloof , un fitting way.

Redness said...

Love your post - a reminder that no matter the era the problems are still there - how fortunate your girls are - that you understand!! Thanks!

keith hillman said...

It was the same yesterday and it will be the same tomorrow. And for some it often lasts well beyond childhood. A very interesting article.

Elizabeth said...

thanks for this Karen, a helpful post 'cos it helps to know I'm not alone with this feeling....somehow I thought I was the only one who didn't fit in!

I didn't fit in with any of the 'groups' at school, still don't, don't keep in touch with them either. It is only now I am nearly 40 that I am slowly finding 'MY group'... and they are all a bit older than me. I wish I had friends the same age as me but alas I can't find them (not yet anyway).

The friends I do have are GREAT!!! (on the Internet and in the flesh ;-))

Drama Mama said...

I love the image of "fellow travelers" - I might use that in my next talk with Miss M!

B. said...

How true! That's really sweet.