Once upon a time (like all fairy tales begin), I was in middle school (never mind, it’s a horror story), and probably definitely not the coolest kid you’ve ever met. (That’s ok. Look at me now. Just like Oprah.) I was tall for my age and looked older than I was, but not in any way that was advantageous. In sixth grade, a classmate told me, “On the first day, I thought you were a teacher.” Grrreat, that’s all a 12 year old needs to fit in, comparisons to the faculty. I was as awkward as any other preteen. (Maybe a tad bit more. Who cares? I’m fine now, I said!) I digress…
When most of the kids in your grade are turning 13, there are all kinds of fun birthday parties to attend. Bar and bat mitzvahs, bowling parties, swimming parties, sleepovers. I had a party at Fantasyland, and although that sounds like a house of ill repute, I assure you it was a skating rink. My friends and I bought song dedications for 50 cents, drank pickle shots, and skated in circles to Wonderwall. Hello, 1998.
Just like the rest of my peers, I was not invited to everyone’s birthday party, but I remember one party in particular that seemed like all my friends were invited to and I was not. I remember assuming my invitation must have gotten lost in the mail. Literally. I checked the mailbox every day. I even had my mom drive me to my aunt’s house so I could check her mailbox. (I used my aunt’s address to attend this middle school. That is another story, and I will not tell it lest they revoke my diploma.) What was I thinking? That this classmate pulled school records to get everyone’s addresses? (Ayyy, preteen Heather was a real hoot.) I don’t even know if this kid mailed out their invites (that seems improbable now), but I thought surely they must have if they didn’t hand it to me in the hallway during our passing period. It goes without saying, there was no invite, and 13 year old me was
very kinda crushed. I just wanted to be included.
And isn’t it the same today? As we get older things change and we assume that we’re no longer like the middle school versions of ourselves. However, as different as we may seem on the exterior, deep down the little preteen version of ourselves that feels anxious and awkward still exists. And sometimes, he or she gets stirred up and those uncomfortable, left out, angsty feelings come rushing back at us. At our core, we just want to feel accepted and included. Honestly, given an invitation, we might not go. I’m a homebody. One of my greatest joys is when plans get canceled and I can just chill with the hubs and the corg instead. It’s the knowing that someone wants you to be a part of whatever is going on that makes us feel good.
I am very fortunate to have had the same best friend since I was about 13. (Hers was not the party I was talking about, but come to think of it, I don’t remember being invited to her 13th birthday party either. Vanessa!!…I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume weren’t established friends yet. Also, I am LOLing at all my junior high popularity. Clearly, it spanned far and wide.) Vanessa is always going to be my person. She knows all my secrets and understands my entire conversation even if all I send is a screen shot and a single emoji. I will never let her go.
But I know not everyone has this kind of relationship. Not everyone has someone to turn to when life is messy or someone to celebrate with when life is a peach. There are people all around us who are lonely and wishing someone would reach out. Let’s open our eyes. It might the person you least expect. It might be the woman who seemingly has many friends but really are all merely acquaintances that don’t go much deeper than a like and comment on Facebook. It is possibly the person who works extra hours and gets involved in every committee but never gets invited to hang out because they always seem too busy. Or maybe it’s exactly who you think it is. Maybe it’s the young man who never talks to anyone and averts his eyes because he is painfully shy and anxiety gets the best of him.
Go the extra mile to make others feel included. Always take the “more the merrier” stance. Try talking to the person who you feel like you would have nothing in common with. They might surprise you. You might surprise yourself.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that I’m wrong about the whole thing. No one wants to be included. No one wants to be invited. Everyone is a happy island. Even if that is true, I still cannot imagine that these “happy islands” would take offense to an invitation. They might decline, but they aren’t going to chastise you for showing them kindness. I’ve never seen anyone get upset because someone was friendly towards them.
Glennon Doyle nicely summed up all this wordiness in one Instagram post:
If you are standing with other women in a circle and there is a woman standing alone in your circle’s vicinity – the thing to do it notice her, smile at her, move over a bit and say, “Hi, come join us!” Even if she decides not to join your circle – even if she looks at you like you’re crazy – inviting her is STILL THE THING TO DO. This advice is meant for both literal and figurative circles. WIDEN YOUR CIRCLE. ALL THE TIME.
Also: horseshoes are better than circles. Leave space. Always leave space. Horseshoes of friends [are greater than] circles of friends. Life can be lonely. Stand in horseshoes.
I didn’t always feel like this. I used to be a “close it up…tighten it up…interlopers beware!” person. I’m glad I’m not like that anymore. I have some of the most beautiful groups of friends, inside and out. And the best part of those groups is that none of them have a membership cap. They are all horseshoes with plenty of open space for new friends. That’s the way it should be. We should want to show kindness to others because kindness has been shown to us. We should do our best to include others because others have included us. If you are given the opportunity this week (and you will if you look for it); show kindness, be inclusive, say hi to someone new, at the very least smile at people. It is good for your heart and theirs.
“A sweet friendship refreshes the soul” Proverbs 27:9 MSG
Be a blessing,