Ever been any place where you don’t feel like you fit? Maybe not literally, but it feels like everyone is in taffeta and sequins and you’re in jeans and a sweatshirt; or it’s a black tie affair and you’re a pair of brown shoes? You walk in and everyone is talking about things that seem clear to them but to you it sounds totally outside your experience and you wonder a bit what you’re doing there and how to escape?
When I was a first year Jr. High teacher the school board held a “welcome back” potluck picnic to kick off the school year for all the teachers in the district. It was a wonderfully generous idea and was held in a local park and new teachers were not required to bring anything. That was a relief given my lack of culinary expertise. I decided to go business casual which I thought would be respectful yet relaxed, professional yet without “airs”. When I got there nearly everyone was in shorts or sweats and t-shirts or polos. No biggie, I thought, I’m a bit over-dressed but better that than the opposite. After we ate they announced that the “annual” back to school Elementary/Jr. High vs. High School faculty softball game would commence in just a few minutes. I had no glove, no cap, and let’s just say playing softball in my chosen attire did not make sense. And yet, I wasn’t only the English teacher for the Jr. High but also the Volleyball, Basketball and Track coach, as well as the cheerleading sponsor – that’s a whole other blog. So to be in charge of the girls athletic teams and not play in a “fun” faculty sporting event to kick-off the year was not really an option. So I borrowed a glove each time we took the field and played in right, not a lot of action out there. And while I did bat, they allowed a pinch runner so I wouldn’t have to try and run in my slacks and slick-soled loafers. I survived the evening and to be honest, when I got back to my apartment I had some tears of both anger and embarrassment and wanted nothing more than to pack up and head to some far-off land and carry bags of grain for hungry people who wouldn’t be as apt to host events without sharing all the pertinent information.
Not fitting in doesn’t feel good, so most of the time we act like we do, right? And while it feels much of the time like the rest of the world seems relaxed and put together and without weakness, we figure out how to “act” the same way and pretend that we are confident and at ease and conversant about all things important and meaningful. I’ve been home sick a few days this week, and yesterday watched an interview with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. They are in a movie together that has garnered both talk and nominations for the highest awards in their field. There is no question they each have reached the top of their vocation. Each of them has been in movies that have been blockbusters at the box office as well as received acclaim in the artistry of their craft. So it was interesting when they were asked in general how their lives were, Tom Hanks said he just felt good that he hadn’t been “found out” yet. The interviewer had a quizzical expression at that response and he said that he’d once worked with Anthony Hopkins from whom he first heard that response. And then he said that he thought most actors feel like at some point someone will figure out they aren’t really that good at what they do and will stop employing them.
Maybe that isn’t true only of professional actors. Maybe we’re all a bit like that if not professionally, then socially, emotionally, and even spiritually. We somehow believe or learn that there is a way of “fitting” that will keep us in the game, in the community, in the faith; and that if anyone ever figures out what we’re really like in terms of our questions, our doubts, our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, then we somehow will cease to be acceptable.
It’s an interesting word – short, terse, without any particular flowery sounds that roll off the tongue eliciting endless possibilities of meaning and imagination. Fit. Such a short word, but oh my goodness how much power it carries. We convince ourselves that once we get out of Jr. High or High School or College or our 20’s that we won’t have to worry so much about how we “fit” in with everyone or everything else around us. But I’m not certain it ever really stops. If we aren’t graduates of college, do we fit? If we aren’t married by the time we’re 30, do we fit? If we haven’t had children by a certain number of years after we’re married, do we fit? If we have children too soon after we’re married, do we fit? How many are too many, how many are too few, to fit? If we haven’t been to Europe, do we fit? If we haven’t reached a particular place/position/salary in our chosen careers by a certain time, do we fit? If we haven’t reached a certain number of “friends” on social media, do we fit? If we aren’t invited to certain social events, do we fit? If we are under a certain age or over a certain age, do we fit? If we are over a certain size or under a certain size, do we fit? *snort* If we are a Chiefs fan who continues to believe that someday we’ll win a home playoff game, do we fit????
So is it actually even possible? You know, to fit? Who does? Everyone else? No one else? Someone else? And who decides? Maybe that’s the key question, who decides if we fit? I believe that answer has more power than the actual word itself. The “fit” definition comes most effectively from within ourselves. Have we and/or do we accept ourselves as we have been created, as we have used the gifts we’ve been given, as we’ve responded to the expected and unexpected situations we’ve experienced, as we have chosen to say yes and no to opportunities, as we have connected with others and lived and learned and grown and lost and messed up and grieved? Can we choose to fit how we are and move into the world with less energy poured into figuring out how we should fit according to someone else? And if we do that, can we offer a generosity to others that is so invitational in nature that whether or not there is a “fit” all feel welcome and valued and accepted?
I hope to see the movie with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. It was a time in history when women weren’t accepted as journalists or reporters but Streep’s character is running a newspaper that had been purchased by her father and whose leadership had been given to her husband, a lawyer and untrained in the newspaper business, though Kay Graham (Streep’s character) had spent 10 years learning the business after college. She only became publisher and CEO after her husband died of suicide. Her move into the role as leader in an age and vocation where she didn’t traditionally “fit” is perhaps a study in how we live into our best gifts from the inside out in the midst of the struggle that is life itself.