I am an introvert. Being around lots of people exhausts me. And it terrifies me. I am not one for idle chit chat, not very good at the “getting to know you” niceties that appear to be second nature to most other people. I knew this about myself before I set out on this adventure, yet I was unprepared for the ferocity with which my inner introvert roared into action these past two days.
Even though I am 50 years old, whenever I am in an unfamiliar place with a lot of unfamiliar people, I am transported back to my childhood, back to the days of trying to fit in at yet another new school, trying to look just right, say just the right thing, have just the right clothes, hair, shoes. I look longingly at the table where the cool kids sit and with dread at the empty table where my seat awaits. I keep my head down in the hallways and my hand down in the classroom.
My instinct is to run away and hide, to pull my head back into my protective shell and wait. I figure if I’m going to feel invisible, I may as well just be invisible. At least if I’m hiding, I can understand why no one approaches me, why no one sits at my table, why no one reaches out. If I am truly invisible, then I am in control. If you can’t find me, you can’t ignore me.
These are my primal instincts. My educated, intellectual self knows better, knows that if I put myself out there, if I reach out, I will be met half way. Knowing this does not make it any easier. It does not matter that I am 50—I still feel five, ten, 15, 20, 25. I still feel too young to understand, like life is still a mystery that will resolve and clarify as I get older. When I do not have my friends, my family, my community to reflect back to me who I am, I am nothing. I am empty. I am older, but I do not understand.
What frightens me most about this experience is that even when I do reach out (and I have), even when I have intelligent and reciprocal conversations with others here, I feel like my words are as silent as I am invisible, that my mouth opens up and the language evaporates, unintelligible and indecipherable. Even as others respond, at that moment I do not feel seen or heard, just empty and alone.
Evidently, this is my work, to welcome the fear, the loneliness, to invite them in and set them a table, and wonder what they have to teach me. Before great light, darkness. Before great relief, great pain.