Being 'the Other': Owning a Different Kind of Story

Friday, November 3, 2017

I often feel like ‘the other’ – part of a group of people that no one knows how to deal with or react to.
There’s married people, parents (who may or may not be married), widowed, divorced, singles, religious…and then there’s me.

Yes, I am single, but I don’t identify at all with the single life, or at least those that are single and around my age (32).
Why? Because singles that are in their 30s have usually spent the past decade or so dating, perhaps having at least one long-term partner along the line, exploring different careers maybe.
Me, on the other hand? Not so much. I voluntarily lived a life of celibacy. I explored different careers, yes, but not really through my own choice (not that I minded). I moved around the whole country, but again not through my own choice (again, not that I minded). My long-term partner was God.

Except for my work, the rest of my life feels stagnant. Since leaving the Sisters, I haven’t gained many other friends, though I kept those I already had. I did join an all-female Bible study group at church, which helped a little, though I tend to only see them on Sunday nights. Almost all the women (just by happenstance) are divorced, a stage of life that I can relate to the most, and, as you can guess, they are almost all older. [Truthfully, I think this tendency to form friendships with older generations stem from the average age of those I lived with when I was a Sister.]
Because I mostly only see that group on Sunday nights and because the rest of my friends have families, I lack friends to do spontaneous things with…like go to festivals or try out a new restaurant or just hang out.

So, I do many things alone. Having an introvert side, I don’t mind this too much. But doing so, I realized how much society assumes we do everything in groups.
I even had someone try to skip ahead of me in an ice cream shop once because he assumed I was waiting for a friend.  I wasn’t – just getting some pistachio gelato on a nice night. And there was one time in church that they squeezed so many in the pew that I wondered if I was going to be asked to move to a different part of the church because it was obvious I was the only one in the pew by myself.
And pretty much everywhere, I’ve rarely had anyone talk to me when I’m alone.

Oftentimes, if I share my story, many (regardless of age, religion, or vocation in life) don’t know how to react to my story of being a Sister, leaving, and then the grief of transition – that is, if I even feel vulnerable enough to share that last part. Usually I get a shocked face, a “wow, that’s interesting!”, and the conversation ends. When I was deeply sharing with someone once, I was told “I can’t relate to your story at all”, which I’ll admit made me feel sad. That comment truly did make me feel like ‘the other’ – like saying ‘you’re different than the rest of us and I just can’t understand that’.

Brené Brown once wrote
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

The truth is all that – my vocational discernment, being a Sister for five years, leaving, and the transition to lay life – is all part of my story. I can’t erase nor would I want to, really. The key is to embrace who I am, who I was, and what happened. I can’t pretend I’m anyone else. It may seem like it makes me more acceptable but, really, it just makes me more fragmented.

Being ‘the other’ – at least for now – is part of that story. On some days, when being alone is difficult or when I hear comments that emphasize my “different-ness”, it’s easy to give up. It’s easy to believe this is the way it’ll always be. But maybe it’s realizing I’m different, maybe it’s reflecting on the murk of my story, that allows me to pick up the shards left of my brokenness.

And hopefully, one day, I’ll find people, like most of the friends I have right now, who understand my story or at least feel comfortable with its uniqueness.

If I think about it, if there’s one thing I’ve been this past year, it’s brave. I’ve stepped into the unknown by becoming a lay woman. I’ve wrestled with grief, having lost my lifestyle, my community, and even some friends. I’ve chosen to remain in a city with no family and only a handful of friends. I changed jobs in September, leaving the ministry I knew for three years. Does that mean I haven’t been fearful? Or depressed? Or lonely? Oh God, no. Ask any of my friends. They can share those times they’ve had to calm me down. Yet, I feel that bravery doesn’t exclude those emotions but it means choosing to wade through it all anyway.

Sometimes bravery is in the small things, in trudging through life when it feels like it’s not going forward, in going out of your comfort zone, in sharing your story anyway, in believing God has a bigger plan.

I may be ‘the other’ for a long time. But screw that. I don’t have to be anyone else. My story is mine. And everyone’s story is worthy of being told and listened to.

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