“Once I got into space, I was feeling very comfortable in the universe. I felt like I had a right to be anywhere in this universe, that I belonged here as much as any speck of stardust, any comet, any planet.”
Good morning, friends. I hope your weekend was special in some way. Finding “special” is hard these days, but special can be all around us if we look for it. I hope you found it. Now, let’s get to it.
Preface: I have tried extremely hard to not moralize in these Encouraging Words. I have tried for years now to keep them on relatively focused topics and leave the outside world to other persons. Typically, these Encouraging Words come from whatever is challenging me in the week, the overflow of my own life. Today there is but one overflow and it is purely moral, so I understand if you choose to skip on by. Hopefully, we’ll connect again next week.
Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong somewhere? I’ve had a few occasions like that in my life, but just a few. I remember one time as a young man I was invited to a Cotillion Dance. If you’re not familiar, it’s part of the debutante system, where upper-class young ladies are “presented” to society. It’s purely class matter, and not my class. In North Carolina debutantes (young ladies of the highest society) are “selected” early in the year from around the state, then during the summer have regional dances (parties) to socialize. I had a friend who was a debutante and remarkably one of her friends invited me as a date to her cotillion dance. It was a disaster.
From the very beginning I knew none of the other group. Worse, it was plainly obvious that I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t Garth Brooks, showing up in my boots to her black tie affair, but it was equally obvious. And for a night I had a miserable time, focused on my misfit ways. But it lasted six hours and was over. I learned to never do that again, and I knew I’d never get another chance. Have you ever had a non-belonging experience?
To become an astronaut requires the greatest commitment and a string of ultra-high achievements just to have the opportunity. I know because my family is friends with an astronaut. I know second hand what Mae Jemison had to endure. It was impressive. And I can imagine that through the super-majority of it she was a token. She’s black, if you didn’t guess. But it wasn’t just in high achievement that she was “non-belonging”; her whole life was a non-belonging experience. That’s the way it is to be black in America. Or at least, it is that way when you get out of your segregated space.
Dr. Jemison’s quote, from her book “Then & Now: Dr. Mae Jemison”, shows how powerful belonging is in our lives. Most astronauts talk about the powerful experience of experiencing space; all of them talk about vastness and conquering. But Dr. Jemison’s is the only one I’ve read that speaks of belonging. She had to escape the surely bonds not just of gravity but of judgement and oppression to feel the relief of belonging. It makes me sad and celebrate at the same time. Good for her, and sad for us.
While I’ve had a few personal non-belonging experiences in my life, I have had many experiences deciding if someone else belonged. I wish I had been more welcoming and inviting. I am hopefully getting better at it. These days “belonging” is becoming a powerful force. There is no doubt new realities will emerge and new ways will become common. And if they end the days of judgment for anything not character or behavior related, then all the better.
Have a wonderful week.