Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” ― C.S. Lewis
Not to go much into the who, what, where, when and why, but at one point in my school career, I accepted an invitation to attend a summer leadership conference.
It was not what I expected. Of the handful of memories that I’ve retained from that three-day experience, most of them involve me, surrounded by a group of much more enthusiastic participants, moving my hands in some sort of cheer. Every speaker that came to talk to us had to be met with an OUTSTANDING (O-U-T * S-T-A-N-D * I-N-G out, out standing)! Walks to perform community service involved us “Singing in the rain.” Perhaps I was just being a grumpy teenager, whose thoughts, more often than not, rested longingly on the fanfiction chapter I wanted to be working on, but couldn’t–and yet, even as my voice slipped in between all the others, I didn’t really feel a part of the group.
On the last night, my team (a subset of the larger masses) gathered around a campfire, glow-in-the-dark necklaces clinging to us as if we were as attractive to fireflies as we were to mosquitoes. One by one, the others each talked about how surprised they were to have found a family there. I thought, I’m not even sure I remember most of your names, and thinking back on it now, only two faces stand out with anything resembling clarity. If the rest of them kept in touch, I certainly didn’t.
I don’t want to sound as if I thought I was “too cool for school”; I just couldn’t feel whatever it was everyone else was feeling. And it’s happened many times since. I’ve been in Writing classes where everybody–from the TA to my fellow students–found beauty in poems that I thought were too dark, disjointed and modern. It seemed like I, alone, of the kids at prom, wished that I had brought my Kindle. All this has taught me that being in the same location for the same purpose as everyone else does not necessarily make me part of the group.
So, it was strange when at the request of my boss I took the pictures of the students who would be going on Study Abroad over Winter break and morphed them into a collage on Power Point. At first, I did it very rhythmically: copy photo, paste photo, adjust size, find a place where it seems to fit, add animation. But as each face became part of the artwork, it made me realize that whoever these people might be–how different their personal stories, or their interests–they had wound up as one of the 40 people going to Morocco, or Spain, or Australia. And instead of these two weeks being a pleasant but rather insignificant time in their lives, it could really be the start of new friendships and ideas about the future.
I can’t explain why I felt their potential connection to each other so strongly in that moment. Maybe it’s because, in spite of my ambivalence to those I met at the summer leadership conference, it was not long before I also found people who strolled across my life seemingly at random, but from the moment I met them were destined to have an impact on my life. Maybe because my own Study Abroad experiences have shown me just how much seeing the world can make you more comfortable with yourself, and with others.
All I know is that, even though we all seek a place where we belong, friendship and companionship should never just be about going through the motions; it shouldn’t even be like that collage in which you have to resize yourself to take up a certain slot. Instead, belonging means being who you want to be, following your dreams up the peak even if you have to scale them alone–and finding out which strangers made the same journey on the opposite side of the mountain as you.
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