At the old church, there was a young man who consistently sought me out, or at least it seemed that way. He made a point of greeting me cheerfully, asking me how things were going, and engaging in conversation for several minutes.
Want to hear something sadly funny? I often wondered why. I mean, he was nice. He was related to one of the leading families in the church. Unlike a number of the members of the leading families themselves (seen in retrospect), he was one of the kindest people I knew there. (Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the people there are evil, somehow. But I certainly was deluded. I thought I was a part of something, but as I keep thinking it through, I get the feeling I really wasn't.)
I bless that young man. I'd call him and invite him to dinner with our family, but for the fear somehow our taint might rub off on him and cause him problems at the church. Is that paranoia, or what?
Oh, they were friendly enough, amongst themselves. There was always cheerful talk and laughter during the pause between the early teaching ("Bible study," some might call it Sunday school except that it was age-integrated) and the worship service. If I confined my interaction to visitors, or stuck with the same handful of people, I could have conversation, too. Trying to join a conversation with any of the core group was always something of a strain. Some were more gracious than others, but it definitely felt like labor rather than natural conversation. Sort of like standing on the edge of the group of popular kids on the school playground. Now I know how those poor ostracized kids felt.
I never bought into the school bullying that put forth the message, "If you are friends with so-and-so, if you even say a nice word to her, you'll be an outcast, too." I would interact with any of the kids, popular or unpopular. I wasn't part of the "in" crowd but I wasn't an outcast, either. I lived somewhere in the middle. I never could quite figure out what made someone "in" or "out." It was the kids in the "in" crowd who made the determination, and I wasn't a part of those conversations.
I admit that I never did catch on, even as an adult. I look back at years of loneliness at the old church, of never quite fitting in, no matter how I tried, never being accepted -- and never knowing why. Is there something fundamentally wrong with me? With our family? What did we do to earn this (social) death sentence?
We were just "good enough" to attend that church and the church-wide social occasions, but never "good enough" for closer friendships. I always had the feeling of being held at arm's length. I still don't know why. I was overweight, dressed kind of dowdy, had allergies that prevented me from wearing jewelry and makeup. But there were overweight women in the "in group." There were dowdy women there, too. How did they do it? How did they win their way in?
I don't think it was entirely "me." I had this weird divide in my life: being a respected leader in our local homeschool group, and an active member of a lively online homeschooling community, versus someone on the fringe at our church even after attending there more than two decades. Looking at it in retrospect, something was out of whack. (Someone in the online community said something once that maybe it was the church, that some churches just aren't "a good fit." Seems she was right.)
I kept thinking if I could just get it right... But maybe I wasn't the problem. At least, not the main problem.
Still, the bewilderment hovers in the back of my mind. (Was it something I said? Something I did?)