You see, when you look different, you don’t just grapple with belonging on an existential, quarter-life crisis level. You face it early on, when you walk into the lunchroom, looking for an open seat next to a friendly face. You handle the stress this question brings as you cross your fingers and conceal them into fists hoping you belong as one of the first names shouted as team captains call dibs. You search out “belonging” on the playground when everyone else runs off with their friend group as soon as the school door opens, claiming their respective spots. The top of the slide is reserved for the cool girls to perch on and peer down at their “subjects.” The seesaws are for the rowdy boys, surfing the creaking planks as if they’re riding waves in SoCal. The swings are, of course, for the kids who still think that being a kid is about having fun. And then there’s you (and by you, I mean me), book in hand, content to read Anne of Green Gables for a fourth time, enjoying the quiet of the bench and the cool breeze. But in the back of your mind a question nags: Where do I belong among these kids? Why don’t they want me in their group?
This question for me was the hardest in late elementary and early middle school. Once I got to high school, most of the mean-spiritedness my peers developed faded as mysteriously and as quickly as it had appeared. There were hold outs, of course, who insisted on rude remarks and subtle exclusion, but they were the exceptions. I felt, even if tenuously so, that I belonged to my school. I belonged with my little group of friends—“The Good Girls,” they called us. I belonged in yearbook and Anchor Club and youth group at church. I had a sense of belonging and I was happy.
But as our lives change, we grow up and move out of our happy comfort zones and onto new life experiences. The question, “Where do I belong,” resurfaces a lot. I think that looking different has the potential to increase anxiety about taking on new challenges and subconsciously discourages us from stepping out of those comfort zones. We fear rejection like SEC football teams fear the Crimson Tide (couldn’t resist, y’all).
But don’t let the fear of rejection prevent you from finding your niche. I’m almost sad to say that a commercial drove that message home to me this week. "You belong where you’re appreciated." Looking different or having a sibling who is differently-abled, allows us to experience an alternative lifestyle. We have a unique vantage point; we see life from a perspective others do not. Empathy for others, a connection to one’s spiritual self, and a strong will to practice kindness characterize many of us that grew up watching others react to how we look, not who we are. So don’t settle for belonging where it’s easy, convenient or comfortable. Try new things, because it’s very likely that you have something to offer—something that is valued and appreciated. You are more than a sum of your parts and you belong where people appreciate you for your refreshing perspective, cutting wit, artistic insights, or athletic prowess. Many, many times you’ll ask yourself, “Do I belong here?” and your honest answer may be “No.” But one place you do belong is CCA. So, consider this your invitation to join the nation of craniofacial advocates who are living full, exciting lives and furthering the message of acceptance and appreciation, one heart at a time.