I went to college at Northeastern University. If you’ve ever visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, you most likely passed right by my first apartment. I learned about the world from a very new (and left-of-center) viewpoint. I learned about writing and editing in my journalism classes. And outside of class, I learned a lesson I’ve never forgotten:
When you’re lonely, you never feel more alone than when you’re in the middle of a crowd.
Boston is filled with students. They’re everywhere—on the streets, on the T, in the restaurants and in the stores. As a student, I should have fit right in. But I didn’t.
In my journalism classes, I lived in fear that the professors and other students would realize what a pretender I was. As if I had any writing talent at all.
Outside of class, I watched everyone else hurrying to their important events, to meet with their many friends, to accomplish their high goals, while I lumbered back to my apartment to spend most evenings alone.
Then, even when I did make friends, I felt like an interloper. I never felt I belonged.
It’s only looking back that I realize I can’t have been the only person who felt that way. I have, by the grace of God, overcome that shyness. I have friends. I have places where I belong. Today, rather than allow myself to believe I’m all alone, I look for the person who seems to feel as I did back in college, and I try to befriend her.
Because there’s no lonelier place than standing all by yourself in the middle of a crowd.
Do you ever feel you don’t belong? How do you handle it?
Robin Patchen is the author of two novels. Her latest, Faith House, is a Christmas novella that takes places in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy whose heroine, Sadie, understands loneliness in the midst of a crowd. If you’re longing for Christmas in July, check out Faith House.