When you look out into the World, you desperately try and see your own reflection. Seeing it stare back at you, one you can define/associate with – it brings a gentle touch of comfort. It reminds you that loneliness has yet to swamp your being, that you belong to something.
That sense of belonging can stem from the music pumping through your earphones that makes someone sitting next to you smile: they like that tune as well. It’s when you put in a movie suggestion and get a round of fist pumps for a reply. Or when you tie a brightly coloured headscarf as a crown for your head, slip some Mozambican cow-horn hoops through your earlobes and walk with pride through a traditional English town: the few ethnic people break out into beaming smiles of recognition and affiliation.
These episodes work to affirm you, build in a sense of security, a grounding foundation of identity. Yet they are always challenged. You’re not really a fan of Lauryn Hill because you haven’t heard her second album, don’t know how many children she has and didn’t realise that she’s the same person in Sister Act 2. You only want to watch The Avengers because it has some fit actors in it – stop pretending it’s because you actually grew up reading Marvel comics and watching Cartoon Network with the ‘mandem’. You aren’t really ‘African’ because you don’t know why there was a civil war in Liberia, don’t speak your native tongue and your skin hasn’t been burnished by the sun.
It can be like a horse-kick in the chest. Being brutally excluded from your self defining group, that sense of affiliation, of belonging that is ripped to shreds like an unwanted bank statement: into tiny, infinitesimal pieces that can never be put back together again, let alone recognised for what they once were.
Sitting beside all the other pieces of rubbish that didn’t quite make the grade, that feeling of loneliness you tried to avoid comes over to say Hi. It wants to be your friend, but you shun it as well, turning that once proud back into a ‘LEAVE ME ALONE’ sign, curled over, broken, resigned.
Yet, I say, embrace it. Turn back around, stretch your face from a frown into a timid smile that will burst into a sunshine beam and say HI. HOW ARE YOU? WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE MY FRIEND?
Because Loneliness is a lie the World tells you. It tells you it is wrong to be alone, to walk alone, to enjoy being alone. But that is because the World is afraid: it’s afraid that you will wake up and realise, your identity does not depend on other people. On other people defining you and saying you’re good enough, that you’ve made the grade and then welcoming you to take a place in their ‘prized group.’ The World doesn’t want to let you know that actually, how you view yourself and what you affiliate yourself to is your choice. There is no quota you have to fill before you claim to like an artist. It doesn’t matter if no one knows how you were soooo obsessed with Spiderman you broke your arm pretending to be him. It doesn’t matter if your skin hasn’t been burnt by the sun, the pigment that is there, your melanin count, is itself a testament of your origins.
But most importantly – your identity is rooted in the Creator of Creation. You were formed as a unique individual to stand alone as part of the body of humanity, as part of the wonder of Creation. You are who you are because you are who you are – and you, and you alone, are loved for that because of that. Yes, this potentially anastrophic construction may seem contrived, naive, only applicable on the shiny, pure surface of an LCD screen. But we feel that way because we have been conditioned to turn a truth into a lie, a friend into an unrecognisable foe, love and acceptance into things to be revoked.
Stand tall, be not afraid to be different, be not afraid to BE YOURSELF. Even if that means having to put up with people’s quasi-acceptance which is as durable as evaporating water, here today gone this second. Learn to look in your own mirror and say HELLO, and identify yourself, then BE. With that confidence, you will be surprised how attractive, inspiring, evocative it is to the world that tells you, you don’t fit in, you didn’t quite make the grade. As that confidence oozes from your very being, it liberates others to STOP CARING about what the WORLD HAS TO SAY, and enables you to START BEING who YOU are.
Take yourself out on a date. Seriously, go to Nandos (or if you don’t have a full stamp card some other place that will give you decent quality food at a decent price). Ask for a table for one. Repeat it when they smile jokingly. Sit down. Order your food, order your free tap water, consider the desert menu then check your wallet. As you say grace and begin to tuck in, have a conversation with yourself (this can be internalised or externalised, it’s your choice). Get to know yourself. Get to know the exquisite creation that is you. Pay your bill, smile, get up, and step back into the World liberated, illuminated, and shining the beautiful light that is a part of creation who has realised just that. That it is and belongs to Creation – and that is enough.
SEEK self improvement
To BECOME selfless
To become YOU