The lady in Starbucks this morning, who asked me whether or not I could get a weather report on my laptop computer, was wearing a loud fluffy orange scarf. One of those you would have seen on a starlet in the thirties–all wispy and feathery–hiding neck, chin and shoulders, dwarfing the rest of her body even though she wasn’t exactly petite. She talked with a lisp caused by a cleft palate.
She was genuinely intrigued by the technology and was amazed that I could, if I wanted, listen to radio and watch TV and movies all on my computer. After she had enough information to walk with she put on her long brown leatherette coat, re-wrapped her scarf and left. I looked over at the young lady reading the newspaper at the next table. I couldn’t quite make out from the turn of her mouth, whether she found the scarf-lady or our conversation slightly amusing.
I’ve spent most of my life wanting to fit in somewhere. If I’m honest, fitting-in has been the hidden quest of my life. Underneath my pursuits, from recreational to intelectual to spiritual, from John Krakauer to Nietzsche to St. Benedict, there is an intense desire in me not to be found amusing, but interesting.
I was in grade nine, on a morning break, when I turned to find myself the object of laughter by a group of classmates. The boy at the centre of the scrum was imitating me, holding up an invisible hair. And I saw myself.
I had a habit of being distracted in school and that morning I became preoccupied with a very long hair I had discovered on the knee of my jeans and had picked it off for closer examination. I didn’t know that I was being carefully examined at the same time.
Dwayne hadn’t counted on my stumbling onto his pantomime of me and when I caught his eyes, for a brief moment, we were both embarrassed. He however had the crowd guffawing and sniggering and recovered quickly, and turning his back to me went on with the show. Well, I only assumed he carried on because at that moment I dropped my head and I left the area immediately. I didn’t recover so quickly. Decades later I still remember the scene with precision.
Places of acceptance are greenhouses for the soul. But true places of acceptance are expansive, inclusive, not held together through the exclusion of some group or person or idea. True places of acceptance are places where you can wean yourself of the intense desire to fit in. When you find a place like this, return to it as often as you can.