Once upon a time (the story begins), I belonged to a community. It was an online space, suitable to my better ability to express myself in written words than in spoken ones. I was a silent member for a long time before I spoke up, because there were so many people who were fun and funny and smart and I didn't really think they would want me there. When I did venture to venture to speak and not just read, I was fairly amazed I wasn't either brushed off or smacked down. Room was made for me. People were gracious, and I found, unexpectedly, that I belonged. For a long time, I belonged.
I don't really belong there anymore.
There's no drama in the story. Just change. People come and people go, and the tenor of an open group changes with time. Individuals change too. Goodness knows I've changed since that time when I discovered, unexpectedly, that I belonged.
Change happens, and change moved me and a community apart. That's all. No fuss, no mess, no juicy stories (and if there were I wouldn't write about them). Just quiet, steady change, and a gradual realization that I had fewer and fewer things to say, and felt less and less able to really speak and act like myself. So I don't belong there anymore. I still have some contact with that community sometimes, but it's not the same.
I still miss it. I miss belonging a lot. There's an achy spot where that sense of belonging used to be, and nothing has appeared to heal it. There's nowhere else right now that I feel so deeply that I belong; no group of people with whom I have the same easy sense of recognition and comfort. One place does help to fill the gap, but it isn't the same and I badly miss the feeling of really and truly belonging.
There are problems here, and if I ever want this achy empty spot to heal I will have to face up to them. My lack of community today is mainly my own fault.
I don't have community because I'm not looking for it. It feels a whole lot safer to maintain my distance than to risk being open, even a little. Rejection is still the scariest worst thing.
For all I want good friends, I make a pretty terrible one myself. I never check in with people; I forget to keep in contact with even the closest people. (I tend to assume they don't care if they hear from me or not, because I'm not that important.) I never offer to get together and hang out, and rarely offer actual help. I read up on the bits and scraps people post online about themselves, but I don't ask questions, I don't make space and opportunity to listen, and I don't let people see me. I don't say much on my own behalf. I'm good at lurking around the edges, good at not being seen.
Community is not built on that nonsense. Not on any of it.
What's the answer? Heck if I know. (You get a whole blog post, and you want answers too?) Certain actions do suggest themselves, though, don't they? Like, say hi to people more often? Try having a conversation now and then? Ask people polite questions and listen to the answers?
Uh huh. There is still a difference between simple and easy, and for me these actions are definitely simple but not easy. Knowing what to do and being able to do it are also separate things. So I don't know what comes next. I don't know what it will take to start taking simple, hard actions in the face of the scariest worst thing.
The only thing calling me toward that kind of hard but simple action is knowing community is on the other side. I miss community deeply, this blessed thing which I want so badly and have experienced so infrequently. Maybe knowing in which direction community lies will help draw me through scary hard things. I'm not betting on it tonight. But who knows; maybe it will.