Monday, June 20, 2011

Fitting In

Cooling down from a workout at the gym the other day, I started talking to Kim, a bright, energetic woman I often see there. We were talking about ways we don't fit in here. Unlike many of our female neighbors, we hate shopping, have no interest in fashion, detest card games, avoid any day trips having to do with casinos and aren't into crafts.

We agreed that this didn't make us feel superior to our neighbors. To the contrary, it made us wonder whether we really fit in.

"I buy all my clothes online at Lands End," Kim said. "Shorts and t-shirts. That's it!"

"Me, too!" I said smiling. "These shorts, my daily outfits -- mail order -- all of them."

As we discussed the sparse exercise class schedule for summer, Kim said "I spoke to the Fitness Director and he said they aren't scheduling classes until November because nobody is here. I guess we're nobody."

I smiled. "Then there's a pair of us. Don't tell! They'll banish us, you know."

Kim laughed with recognition at the quote from Emily Dickinson.

There is a thrill in discovering a kindred spirit.

And yet, reflecting on the whole concept of fitting in to this over-55 community in rural Arizona, I have come to realize that, for all my peculiarities, I do have a wonderful feeling of fitting in.  So many people around me -- who do not share my questionable taste in clothes, my equally questionable politics and few, if any, of my interests -- have become very dear to me. And I feel accepted, in turn.

My next door neighbor Louise is a sweet, tough, generous soul as well as a very gifted artist and makes beautiful ceramic pieces. She gave me a lovely vase she made just for my birthday and it has become a favorite on my display case. Her joyous spirit brings me pleasure on a daily basis.  My neighbor Phyllis, who lives three doors down from me, grew up in circumstances very different from my own and her worldview and experience are all quite different. Yet I treasure her friendship, good talks and time shared and greatly enjoy her insights and perspectives. I also admire her courage in her fight against cancer and her  resolve to live life fully every day. My other next door neighbor Judith is a dedicated Republican whom I greatly admire because she is fully committed to her political beliefs and causes. She doesn't just voice her views. She does the hard work of knocking on doors, making phone calls, planning events featuring political candidates.  While my views may differ, I respect her integrity and hard work -- and enjoy her very much as a person.

What we all tend to share in this community is age and a certain slice of life experience: when the music system at the pool plays Beatles tunes or Doo Wop hits, our eyes light up with recognition and memories from the music of our youth.  We all have aches and pains and health concerns -- and are doing our best, in a variety of ways, to stay active. Most women here are grandmothers and delight in talking about their children and grandchildren. I'm childless and don't share that critical life experience, though I enjoy seeing pictures and hearing stories about the young ones.  While many women I know here have lived much more traditional lives than I, there is little comparison or criticism. We seem to have made an unspoken pact to enjoy each other in the present moment, as is, with no judgment.

And I think about the bad old days of grade school and junior high when fitting in was such a challenge, when wearing the wrong label or having a bad hair day or just not being cute or cool could cause one to be ostracized and ridiculed. Or even in young adulthood when having a different point of view or life plan could make one suspect. And I could be just as judgmental as any -- if I perceived someone as stupid or shallow or Republican or not having much in common with me, I wasn't interested in knowing them.

Life is different now.

While I greatly miss regular face-to-face contact with some lifelong friends who have shared both youth and aging with me, I'm delighted with new friends here who come with such a rich variety of life experiences, interests and perspectives. We may not always agree, but we tactfully avoid the sensitive areas of politics and religion. We accept each other as is: quirks, eccentricities and all. While it can be a special pleasure to discover a new friend who shares interests, phobias and a particular point of view, those whose interests and experiences differ significantly can be delightful as well. We've all given up on cute and cool and have come to appreciate authenticity. And I wonder how much I missed in the past by passing judgment so quickly and unfairly on those who were not like me.

One of the lovely bonuses of getting older and wiser is seeing the value of differences as well as similarities in the friends, both old and new, who bring such joy to our lives.


  1. Hello, Kathy, I have seen your comments on other blogs and am always impressed by how thoughtful they are. As I read this post, I can see why. That thoughtful look at the world comes through your words.

    I'm delighted you have found a wonderful level of comfort in your new space, your new world. Maybe that's what we learn after all the frustrations of grade school or junior hi -- we learn how not necessarily to "fit in" but how to make our world "fit in with us." I wish you well. (And by the way, I'm with you on Land's End!)

  2. I'm absolutely with you on Land's End! Whenever I go to the States, I have to leave room in my suitcase for the shopping I've done before I even get there!

    It is a benefit for many of us that as we get older we begin to appreciate others more for their qualities as human beings rather than for how they look or how well educated they are or how much money they have -- age can be a great leveler.

  3. Thanks so much for your comments, Jeanie and Broad! Lands End rules!