I just finished reading Franz Kafka's short story Metamorphosis. At its most basic level, it is the story of a man who is transformed into an insect-like creature. It is quite a bleak little tale! The main character comes to accept his transformation, but those around him are repulsed by his exterior. They are unable to accept that the creature might still have a human consciousness and understanding, which he does.
Alienation is a feeling with which I am all too familiar ... perhaps the reason I found the story so heartbreaking. At a very early age I was told I was adopted. This wasn't something I was able to process very easily as a child. I wanted to belong, but there were physical reminders that I was the odd one out. I was the only member of my family with fair skin and freckles! My brother wasn't adopted and I could see family resemblances in him that made me envious.
My family wasn't religious, but I was sent to a Catholic school after primary school. I hadn't even been baptised, so you can imagine how I felt at school. A bastard and a heathen!! This sense of alienation has pretty much continued my whole life. Perhaps my decision to live in another country was an unconscious desire to make that metamorphosis complete!
This isn't a lament, although I know it sure sounds like it! I am actually quite grateful for these experiences. They have provided me with a different lens through which to view the world. I've met countless other "strangers" like myself, who are all struggling to find a "home".
I met up with a friend yesterday. I haven't seen her for years, but it was a sweet reunion. We first met when our children were only babies and we were both searching for friendship and understanding. With another friend we formed a trio, and we would get together and drink tea and eat and laugh. Each of us came from different backgrounds, with different viewpoints, but what we had in common was our sense of alienation! Eventually, various forces pulled us in different directions. Seeing this friend yesterday, however, reminded me of what our friendship meant to me during that period of my life. All these years later and we are both still grappling with "belonging", with "identity" with "purpose" and "meaning" in our lives.
The truth of Kafka's story, I believe, lies in its simplicity. He isn't dealing with "alienation" on a grand scale, it's represented at its most basic level, in the home, with family members. Kafka reminds us that "alienation" can occur in any setting.
I often feel the hurt of alienation in the most simple of circumstances: standing in a group of people and not being included in the conversation; or listening to people happily making plans that don't include me, acting as though I don't exist. In these moments I can relate to Kafka's insect character! I wonder whether I, too, have transformed into some hideous creature that people can't abide! It is such a simple thing to make someone feel noticed, included: a nod or a smile to show them they are welcome. I read a book once where the main character, an older man, was so afraid that he would pass from the world unnoticed that he would create minor disturbances, such as dropping a bag of apples, so people would see him, would acknowledge his presence.
I am constantly amazed by how insular we have become. People go about their business but rarely interact anymore.
I am still hopeful that I will find a sense of belonging, somewhere, somehow. But experience tells me not to make assumptions anymore, not to discount people who look different or who act differently. I think that's what's so great about blogging. Connections are made without knowing or caring what the person looks like or where they come from. Connections are made from the inside out!
Today, I am going out in the world and I'm going to open my eyes, really open my eyes and take a look. I want to see people, to talk to people. I want to belong!