What Does It Take To Belong?

We roll into our new neighbourhood cautiously guided by an old-timer, who after we finally manage to maneuver into our RV site, introduces himself as Graham.

“Been here since the park first opened,”  he beams and then proceeds to point to each of the other trailers and run down who’s who:  “The ones behind you like to party,” he warns, “as does the couple just over there.  These people have two little granddaughters, that’s a woman by herself, the next one just lost her husband last year, this one over here had a boyfriend but they broke up, Dean across the way helps out around here like me…” and so on.

We have landed right in the middle of a pre-established click, and I feel my insecurities rising.  We are outsiders.

The rain follows us, and trapped inside, I watch as others arrive, pull into their units and even before unlocking their own doors, hustle through the downpour to greet old friends.  Voices rise in excitement and laughter lingers in the air, and I am feeling 12-years-old again, like the year we moved half way through grade eight and my new classmates examined me as if I was some repugnant specimen that had crawled out of the gutter – an unwanted intruder.

The next morning I watch as people emerge and gather in the road way, cups of coffee in hand, and then later as trays of food are carried to a potluck that doesn’t include us.

How will we ever fit in, I wonder?  These people have a history.  They have stories and rituals and relationships that have evolved over years of coming together.  I have legs that sometimes work, a sensitive palate, and a non-alcoholic habit.  Even if we were invited, I probably wouldn’t be able to attend: I’m in bed most of the day.

I resign myself to the role I’ve always played:  the loner.  They will tolerate me, and I will remain comfortably on the periphery, I decide.  Ric is just like me.  We’ll be loners together.  It’s what we do.

Then my granddaughter comes to stay, and as we walk her to the playground we pass a group of people.

“V.J. and Ric, right?”  a woman waves.  “Might as well get acquainted, we’re neighbours now.”

Names get thrown around and before we stop her, Sloane has joined the circle and made friends with another little girl.  Then another woman stops and says she lives directly across from us and we find out she’s from Ric’s hometown, and when we meet the next time, I’ve remembered that she’s the one Graham said lost her husband and I offer condolences, and we sit and she tells me her story, and it turns out her husband had the same cancer as mine, and we cry together and suddenly we’re no longer intruders… we belong.

Turns out it’s not the beer we drink, nor whether or not I can eat pasta, nor any of the other reasons I might think someone might dislike us – it’s about making connections:  opening our hearts and seeing the people around us and letting them in.

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Permission to write, paint, and imagine are the gifts I gave myself when chronic illness hit - a fair exchange: being for doing. Relevance is an attitude. Humour essential.

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