On Belonging

I’m not sure why, but I have always found comfort in anonymity. In the U.S., I enjoy blending into my surroundings, just one person in a sea of others, each a little different but overall just another small piece of a much larger landscape. Maybe it is the introvert in me, but I have never been one to enjoy being the center of attention.

As a result, I am always thinking about how to fit in, trying my best to carry myself in a way that doesn’t warrant any extra attention. In India, I have found it nearly impossible to do this, to fade into the background like I have always done. No matter where I am, I am always thinking about what I’m wearing, how I move and talk and act…

Is this shirt too American-looking? Am I taking too long to cross the road? Am I acting touristy? Is my backpack weird? Am I talking too loudly? Was that gesture I just made impolite? Why are people looking at me? Do I look lost? Am I lost?

…a host of questions whirring through my head at high speed all at once, no matter where I am.

It can be overwhelming to be thinking about so much all the time, but I find the sensation of sticking out to be much worse. Perhaps the fewer stares I get walking through the city or sitting in a restaurant or wandering through a store, the more I feel like I belong in a place so different from where I have lived my whole life.

However, I know deep inside that I can never fully fit in here, no matter how hard I try. I might be able to change my behavior, but I can never change how I look or sound. And I can never fully understand a culture I was not born and raised in. I still need come to terms with this, I think. It takes time to accept the fact that there are places where some people might inherently never be able to feel like they belong.

This struggle to fade into the background has given me a lot of perspective on how some people around the world feel every day of their lives. I’m privileged to not experience this same struggle at home. In the United States, I am able to sink into the background when everyday countless others live their whole lives in fear that they will be scorned, attacked, or hurt for acting differently or having the wrong skin color.

I keep this in mind as I finding myself getting lost in my thoughts, trying to figure out how to modify my behavior and appearance to fit the surroundings. I have found myself the happiest when I am not trying so hard to blend in. Coming to terms with the fact that I might never fully be able to do so, and reminding myself that what I’m facing is trivial compared to the struggle of others, has allowed me to let go a little bit.

One Saturday evening, a friend from the area decides to take us to a local venue where people our age go to dance and spend time with friends. At first I am nervous, worried that I would feel like an outsider. But to my surprise, as we arrive, I find myself once again fading into a sea of people, a crowded space filled with laughing and singing and dancing and music that’s a bit too loud. I felt comfortable, at ease, even. I don’t think I felt this way because I looked and acted like everyone else (which certainly wasn’t the case), but because for the first time in a while, I let myself let go of obsessing over fitting in. And that night, if even for a moment, it felt like I really did belong.

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About Joshua Jordan