Have you ever felt lonely while being surrounded by others? Many people have called this a strange otherness that they have difficulty living with or describing. I’ve fallen victim to such feelings myself, more often than I would like. My therapist would blame this phenomenon on my mild anxiety disorder and usually I would agree, but I’ve come across some things in my research that would imply that this is a common feeling in society.
There was a classical era sociologist named Georg Simmel. His work covered a broad range of topics from social hierarchies to fashion tends. Tonight, however, I’m reminded of his essay called “The Stranger”.
In his essay, Simmel speaks of social groups, or rather membership in social groups. One of the roles he describes is that of the stranger. The stranger is a member of a social group, but remains on the fringes. A person who is generally accepted, but has very loose ties with the other group members. They have the ability to drift in and out of and even between groups without much notice.
Think of the traveling merchant of days of old. They would go between different villages and kingdoms to sell their wares. The merchants managed to keep a good enough relationship with their customers to keep their income afloat, but they weren’t really included within other social matters of the land.
I’m playing that role this evening. I’m sitting in a room full of middle aged to elderly, upper middle class, white Christians. I’m a member of this church and have been attending for years, but I still feel like I am very much a stranger. It has become much more evident in the age of T*ump and his supporters.
I know that includes many members of this congregation. I’ve heard their ramblings before the election and even afterwards. Some of their opinions are very misguided and I’m forced to keep my own thoughts to myself to remain sane with these folks.
A smart person would just find another church. They would leave and seek the companionship and support of more like minded people. I, however, am obviously a glutton for punishment. Even now as I type this, I can’t bring myself to leave. My family still attends this church and I don’t want to leave them behind. Also, my son is beginning to explore his faith and I don’t want my issues to impose on any comfort he may have here.
So I remain a stranger in a very familiar land. I The connections I have are few and that circle is becoming smaller as people stronger than I leave on their own journeys. Perhaps, their departure will make my own that much easier.