It brought back so many memories. I remember Oichan (we called her Winnie back then) seeming like kind of a misfit. Well, she's Chinese, so obviously she has a different look and ethnic background than the rest of us, but I mean beyond that. She went through some really rough times before we joined families in 1969, times that I couldn't possibly understand. I never felt that I got to know her very well, and I haven't stayed in touch.
Raising my daughter has inspired me to think of Oichan often the last several years. Katie has had more tough times than I can even relate to, although she and I are very close. I had a suspicion that she and Oichan would connect. They did. Katie was thrilled to finally meet a member of my family who had a lot in common with her, who had made different choices than the rest of us, who understood what it felt like to be the black sheep or odd duck or whatever animal you want to call it. They both felt like misfits. Their unique gifts help to round out the mostly-blond, mostly-mainstream, mostly-suburban middle class that the rest of us are.
Katie got a chance to show her fire poi (spinning flaming balls on chains) to everyone. For the first time, she felt that the family was impressed by her, that they admired something about her, that she was memorable. She's very graceful and skilled. I've always known it, but the rest of the brood see her so seldom, and she's had so many dark stretches that she mostly felt like a disappointment.
Have you ever felt like you didn't belong? Like nobody "got" you? Like you didn't matter? It's such a lonely, painful sensation. Many of our loved ones feel it without us ever being aware. When we do find out, we tend to react with, "Why do you feel that way? That's not accurate." It's not about accuracy, it's about perception. It's about feeling so different from the rest that you can't believe they would support you or believe in you.
So many of our homeless friends, especially the teenage ones, feel like misfits. Their families didn't understand them or didn't support them or didn't believe in them, and that's how they ended up on the streets. And because we're so hesitant to engage with street people ourselves, their perception of being ostracized is perpetuated.
Each of us has the power to change a little bit of this huge societal problem, and if we all do, maybe we can overcome it. If we stretch our awareness a little bit and reach out a little more to someone who seems to be standing in the shadows, we might discover a new treasured friend. We might learn something about them and about ourselves that we can't discover in our normal routines and circles.
Our world needs a lot less divisiveness and a lot more reaching out. Who can you approach today to expand your world and make them feel like they matter?