There are so many universes inside the life and breath of school cafeterias. Cliques as variant as the colors iPhones describe. I remember hating high school because I just didn’t fit in! There were girls in my school worried about dating, sex and Jordans. I wanted to be a writer and get out of St. Louis on the first thing smoking!
I had no tribe. I had no people. I had no one to eat with.
I spent my lunches for the better part of Sophomore-Senior year writing, reading or contemplating just how to leave St. Louis. There was no writers groups, no message boards, no drama geeks. Nothing.
The cafeteria was a source of such anxiety that I just stopped going. There was nothing there for me. Not that I was better than anyone else. But, there was no one I wanted to sit across from and eat. There is a sense of community born when people eat together. People talk. People gossip. People confess. People admit. People comfort.
I am old enough to remember after-school specials. These moral 90-minute movies that were supposed to evoke or provoke a moral center in the preteen-teenage demographic who watched. I remember how all the popular girls treated everyone else. How one-dimensional the ‘jocks’ were and nerds were the least desirable to be classified as. When someone tried to cross these social castes in a world of utter attention and popularity, they were told: “You can’t sit with us.” This undesirable would be sent away, and be visibility upset. And try to change. With that change, they would be then accepted (See: Pretty In Pink, One Of The Guys, She’s All That, Grease).
I offer this counterpoint. I need you all to understand that community is welcoming and accepting. Of all you are, like you are, as long as you want to be that way. The alternate universe of being rejected from a social echelon (that if you are honest you never wanted to be a part of), is that you find who and where your true tribe is. In and within that space, you should find refuge. A peace of mind and heart among the sea of chaos that is and can be growing up.
In watching my daughters grow up, I encourage them to not change to suit people you don’t even like! Popularity and public notice are not to be the sole striving force when seeking community–your community. If they don’t let you in–build your own! You build your community by finding people that like what you like. And then you find more people whom like you and what you like. And so on. And so on. You support even when you don’t understand. You become a united front against things you know are wrong. Community offers love, space and a place to heal when need be. Community makes you a pillar and keeps your ears and eyes open to serve others–and in turn? Those silent supporters will be your biggest allies when you least expect it!
I’ve seen it work too much to know it’s not a lie.
There are more things now which are available to allow you to remember who you, to be retained and implemented. Community exists to be a help, a resource and at times a protector. In the artistic circles I have found and travels in, have provided me security and support I could have dreamed of! That I wanted in high school–but I was too much of an outsider to get.
I’m glad they wouldn’t let me sit with them. I’m glad they thought was ugly and stuck-up and awkward. I needed that roux as a writer to be ambitious enough to know high school would not be the ‘four best years of my life.’ It also gave me a soft heart to be open to all those whom found a home as a misfit rather than a Homecoming Queen.
Those are my people. From there, from that lack of community, I built one.
Besides, I take power lunches now–and they ain’t free.
[images from herchingerreport.org and aldineisd.org]