Do you ever feel like you are just not quite one of the crowd? Liz Hinds has felt like this at times in her life, so knows how dispiriting it can be to feel unloved and on the outside
Three faces were watching me. I forced a smile as I tried to swallow the warm dish-watery liquid. ‘Mm, it’s lovely,’ I lied.
It was the mid-80s and we were living in Southampton. I was hoping to join the local CND off-shoot, Families Against the Bomb. This was in the 80s when, in spite of huge nationwide protests, American Cruise missiles were based at Greenham Common, just up the motorway.
The FAB group consisted largely of Dicky, a clever Dutch woman, Fliss, her Miranda-like posh friend, and Sue, the earth mother in whose kitchen we were drinking BarleyCup. We met regularly to hear the latest news about troop movements and exercises, protests and who’d been arrested recently.
But one of our main functions was to support the women in the peace camps set up on the common, around the base. For me this involved cooking the odd cauldron of soup or chilli – vegetarian of course – and delivering it to the camp.
A lot of the women who lived at the peace camps had already been living what might be called an alternative style of life. They were the ones who, in ‘normal’ society, tended to be the outsiders, the ones on the edge, but now, in the camps, they had their own normality. People visiting, like me, neat middle-class women, were the ones who suddenly found themselves on the outside. I found myself feeling like less. Less of a person, less of an individual, less of a ‘true believer in the cause’. I was able to go home to a warm comfy bed; I wasn’t as good as them because I wasn’t as dedicated.
No-one ever said this to me: it was just the impression that came across. Or possibly it was in my imagination.
I grew up in a loving large extended family but – and I only realised this maybe ten years ago – I never felt I fully belonged. Again, it was nothing anyone said; it was just a feeling. I recently wrote about this on my blog and, judging by the responses, there are very few of us who haven’t spent a lot of time feeling like outsiders. (Or maybe my blog just attracts the same sort of people as me.)
There were a variety of reasons for it: we were shy, we were nerdy, we were gay, we were different. We’ve mostly moved on and managed to find our own places in the world, but some people will struggle throughout their lives. Some will even take their own lives because of their inability to fit in, or rather the inability of society to accept them for who they are.
And that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? It’s not about what we are but how others perceive us and judge us accordingly. It’s society that creates outcasts and each society will have different norms and different outsiders.
The gospels are full of stories about outcasts. One of my favourites should never have happened for lots of reasons. It concerns a Samaritan woman of loose morals. Samaritans and Jews hated each other but Jesus deliberately travelled into Samaria to speak to this woman cast out by her society. As a result of the meeting her life changed and so did the lives of many other Samaritans.
Jesus demonstrates again and again how we should act but most of us – and I’m thinking of myself here – take a long time to learn, both how we should behave and how we are viewed by God. For a few months in Zac’s we’ve been looking at the stories of how Jesus dealt with outcasts and, to help relate it to us, we wrote a psalm together. Sean, who leads Zac’s, calls psalms blues songs and when we thought of words that expressed how we’d felt as outsiders you can see why. Hurt, reviled, unworthy, invisible, ugly, unloved, aban-doned, rejected. Just a few of the descriptions.
Nobody wants to feel like that; nobody should feel like that.
Husband doesn’t have these problems. I asked him if he’d ever felt like an outsider. His first response was, ‘Usually I’m happier being on the outside,’ then he had a good think and finally said, ‘I suppose it was hard being a northerner in a southern university full of posh kids.’ He shrugged, ‘But I soon made friends.’
Then he asked me if I’d moved the bag of food waste I’d left out for our compost heap. I hadn’t. We looked at each other, then at George. ‘He wouldn’t, would he?’
‘But there’d be some trace surely? He wouldn’t eat the plastic bag as well, would he?’
I don’t want to be judgemental but … yes, he would. George would even enjoy BarleyCup.
P.S. In case you’re worried we suspect the bag was stolen by a fox not George.