“We are prisoners of the classifications we inherit. The things that seemingly unite us into nameable unties- our existing families, tribes or nations- are in fact barriers to ” a perfectly fearless love” of other people and societies. They are also the things that cause individuals to feel out of sorts in their homelands (or even their homes), to suffer from never quite fitting into the premade categories that society insists should shape their lives.” Elise Clews Parsons
That feeling of “never quite fitting in”, of not belonging that Parsons wrote about, is one I know very well. I was surprised to read about it in the book Gods of the Upper Air by Charles King about some of the first anthropologists, like Margaret Mead and Zora Neal Hurston, working with Franz Boas.
By getting to know and studying the people of different cultures, they debunked the belief that some races are inherently superior to others. And they witnessed the disconnection and loneliness that can occur when people within a society don’t adhere to its norms. Which often makes those people believe that there is something wrong with them instead of challenging the beliefs that make them outcasts.
Today for the first time I cooked a Thanksgiving meal.
I made a Butternut squash and barley soup, turkey meatballs, Brussell sprouts, and sweet potatoes. Our friend Jackie came for lunch and the three of us sat around the table eating and talking, getting up to feed the donkeys and sheep when they brayed for hay and watching the dogs play around us.
Thanksgiving, like all holidays, always left me feeling lonely. I was never comfortable at family gatherings, never felt like I really belonged. But not participating in them was anathema to family tradition.
When I was younger, I would retreat to the bathroom, lock the door so I could be alone and look in the mirror to remind myself of who I was. Later I would fantasize about being alone on the holidays, quietly reading a book.
When I read what Parsons’ wrote about some people not fitting into the “categories that society insists should shape their lives” I thought of the lonely holiday dinners and many of the beliefs that I learned from my family that never felt right to me.
And it was affirming to know that this phenomenon was taken seriously by these early anthropologists that I have come to admire. That something I always thought of as my personal problem occurs on a level worthy of being noticed and studied. I supposed it affirmed that what I was feeling was real and not my fault.
Breaking away from the family traditions I grew up with has allowed me to find that “perfectly fearless love”. Love of myself, the people I choose to be with and my way of living. All outside the norms of a structure that was meant to shape me.
Today as I cut up the onions, carrots, and celery and roasted the squash for the soup I was making, I didn’t have to wonder who I was. And as Jon and Jackie and I sat around the table eating and talking I had no desire to be alone with a book.
Today I was right where I wanted to be, with the people, and in a place that I was thankful for.