I had showered. I had brushed my hair after it air dried. Except for the leggings pulled from the top of the hamper, I was wearing all clean clothes. I felt put together.
I’m certain my natural face suggested otherwise. Still, it was only an outing to shop for groceries with strangers.
This is what I thought of when she crossed my path at the grocery store, sending my insecurities into a flurry. I suddenly felt thrown together and hoped this person I couldn’t quite place would pass on by, relieving me of the kind of conversation that feels awkward even with mascara on.
We both glanced twice, kept pushing our carts, and then she turned to face me.
She offered the kind of surprised hello born of sudden recognition. Yes, we did in fact know each other. It was one of Abigail’s preschool teachers.
Insecurities melted as we chatted about Abigail loving kindergarten and how things were at the preschool this year. Then I made my way to the checkout line as she kept perusing the produce aisle. I felt glad for the encounter; my small Alaskan town felt even smaller and then it struck me.
I belong here.
In this vast wilderness of independent people, I belong.
It wasn’t enough to know the names of mountains, to visit prominent tourist attractions, or to make it to the airport without Google Maps. It wasn’t enough to finally choose a church, though attending weekly and finding the airport unassisted can help you break through the weird wall that separates the outsiders from the insiders.
Not that I feel like a true insider. I wear the “military” label and it follows me into friendships. It’s like the tick tock of a mantle clock – unnoticed, save those quiet moments when it’s the only sound. Someday, we will move and all our roots will come up with us, leaving evidence of our existence here until it turns to dust and is swept away to the West.
So, I am pressing the flowers of our experiences and friendships to carry with me. I’m treasuring becoming part of a community that once felt foreign and unkind.
I’ve got people that know me by name, that care about my family, that would notice if I stopped showing up. It’s that sort of thing that makes a small town feel like home.
For a variety of reasons, some places are easier to grow into than others. You may feel at home right away or right at the very end.
For those who have never moved, communities sometimes evolve into the unfamiliar or friend circles shift.
It seems home is always the same and yet always changing.
What helps you feel grounded? What convinces you that you belong in a place or in a community?
Muse over this on your own, or, add to the conversation at @katouthere on Instagram.