Leaving the Tribe


This last weekend I went to a party. Some friends of mine celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, which is insane and very impressive by pretty much any standards. They had a big shindig and I went, of course. They are lovely people and have been in my life probably four or five years now. I’m grateful for them. They’ve been as supportive as they can be, even though it has been challenging for them as I’ve made significant life changes. We met in my old church and my move away from faith put a strain on our relationship. But they are extremely kind and loving people and we have all worked hard to maintain our friendship. I value and admire that tremendously about them, along with many other things.

So of course I went, to celebrate their life and marriage and to show my support for them. They were glad I was there and I was glad I went, but it was a strange experience all the same.

I knew when I walked in the door it was going to be awkward. Anyone there that I recognized were people from my former church and I don’t know many of them terribly well. Certainly not well enough that we would like hang out and catch up. I wandered around for a little while looking lost until the husband of a good friend of mine ran up to say hello, which was very nice of him. I was extremely happy to see him. Sadly, my friend wasn’t there and he was in the band. Even so, having someone happy to see me made me feel better. I sat myself down at a table and watched everyone for a while.

It’s a hard experience to describe. Like an incredibly overwhelming sense of deja vu in some ways? I felt 14 years old again, being dragged to another church bbq or picnic or potluck. I feel like I have been to hundreds of them. All of these people look the same. I honestly don’t even know what everyone talks about. Based on what I overheard I would say children, grandchildren, home repairs and church business. In high school I would go hide in a corner somewhere and write angst-ridden poetry but that hardly seemed appropriate now.

I mean, the obvious truth is that I didn’t even feel unhappy or trapped the way I used to in high school. Because clearly I wasn’t. I could walk out at any time, nothing tied me to anyone or anything here except my choice to come and my choice to stay. What I felt was just a sense of complete bewilderment.

I was once prepared to make this my life.

I really can’t imagine it now. I can sit at a table now and watch everyone and know that in a few hours I go home. But once upon a time, I assumed my future was full of these. I did not think I would ever fit in, because I could not imagine that. I did not think I would be able to talk about home improvements or the latest church meeting or children with these people. Who would I have to become for that to be the case? No, I did not see that happening. But I assumed I would keep showing up, as I was supposed to. I assumed I would spend my life, sifting through people, looking for the few who might understand me and enjoy my company, looking for kindred spirits in the system.

It did not occur to me that you could build your own system. 

It’s hard to describe how strange it is to realize that everyone relies so heavily on what boil down to tribal signals. Two different people asked me what church I went to now and, when I said I didn’t go to one, they were at a complete loss for words. One woman actually leaped up and said she had to go get a drink.

I felt inherently right and comfortable in my own skin, and so much more aware of how uncomfortable I had felt most of my life. Yes, this was an awkward social situation, but it wasn’t because there was something wrong with me. Nor is there  anything wrong with them as people (although I have many problems with the tribe). It’s just a bad fit. It was always a bad fit. That’s okay.

During the ceremony part, there were a few worship songs. I miss singing with people. I think it is probably a true thing to say that I miss singing with people more than I miss worship particularly. But worship is a separate thing and a part of me misses that experience. I’ve talked about it before. They invited everyone to sing along who knew the words. I knew the words, of course. Knowing and remembering songs after one or two times through has always been one of my pointless talents. But I also knew I wasn’t going to sing. That’s a tribal marker. It’s a ritual, it belongs to them. I didn’t believe in going through the motions before and that hasn’t changed now.

I know some people noticed. That’s okay too. I didn’t bow my head for prayer either. I was there for my friends. I’m glad they take comfort and solace in their faith. I know it is meaningful for them. Personally I see two people who have made it 50 years and I think that is amazing. I think that is amazing without bringing any other being into it. I wish God didn’t get all the credit for the good things, because my friends are amazing and have been amazing in my life and I think that is because they are wonderful people and they deserve that credit. But I’m glad I was there.

Sometimes you have to go back to the tribe to realize how far outside of it you’ve wandered, and how good that ultimately feels.


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