Each month, we feature a story from a member of our Whistling Community. This story comes from Whistling Advisory Board member, Hannah Smith. Thanks for sharing with us, Hannah.
I recently moved to a new city, with my boyfriend, but without a job or a for-sure apartment situation. Who does that? Not usually someone like me. I’m a planner. I like my comfort zone. I like my people, my places, my financial security, and my career plan. I like certainty. Making this move removed a lot of those comforts from my daily life. I’ve learned that I’m ok without all of that while I figure things out because of the community I’ve found.
Where can you find community? A friend of mine joked that when she moved here she would tell people she met (movie ticket salesperson, waiter, grocery clerk) that they were her only friends. She was tickled by saying so and they would humor her – but didn’t know that she sometimes felt as if it were true.
Not to say that I’ve made new best friends. No, I’ve reconnected with college friends, friends from home, and former co-workers. It’s hard sometimes to reconnect with people who knew you at a previous time in your life. They only know you from that time, and you’ve changed a bit since then. Talking with people who knew an earlier version of me usually makes me uncomfortable because what if I have to explain parts of who I am now? What if they put me in this box of how they knew me from before? Reconnecting with these people during a time when I’m in an unfamiliar city forced me to be more vulnerable with them. I’ve shared what I’ve been up to (working in a lower position on the totem pole and trying to work my way up), what I’m looking forward to (having more than just a suitcase’ worth of clothes), and allll the places in my life where there is uncertainty (What if my boyfriend doesn’t get a job offer soon? What if no one will rent us an apartment? What if my work schedule interferes with my bother’s graduation weekend? What if we fail here?). In both old friends and new, I’ve only felt acceptance and encouragement. I have grown in this way – I am more confident in opening up a little more.
I sometimes shy away from connecting with people who, on paper, I don’t identify with immediately. I am hesitant to be vulnerable with someone who differs in their political views, who isn’t from where I’m from, who has a different sense of style than me. From the past 8 weeks I can tell you: the people who I have a lot in common with are wonderful cheerleaders, encouragers, and affirmers. But there is a special kind of delight when an unexpected person shows care for your situation. My co-worker checks in to see how I’m doing because I let him know my grandmother passed away. The pastor at a church we visited gave us a full tour of the building and insisted that we join him for chicken and rice during “coffee hour”. The older Russian lady on the train says you’re a beautiful person and everything will work out ok for you. Get home safely.
I have grown because I left my comfort zone. I have extended myself to find community. Community is what gives me a new comfort zone. Community requires things from you. Vulnerability. Sharing about yourself. An afternoon with someone you don’t know very well. A phone call with a relationship that has been neglected recently. Connecting with others and LISTENING.
I’ve spent a lot of time around water. I swam on the neighborhood swim team, spent many a summer weekend at my family’s lake cabin, and joined my college club swimming team. Being in water is soothing to me. The water is supportive. If all you do is lie on your back, the water holds you up. You are buoyant. You are surrounded. And you are tightly hugged from all angles. I’ve come to know community to do the same. Fostering a community means you have support from the various avenues of your life, supporting you at each angle. Your community knows the shape of your life and holds you up. If all you have energy to do (literally or proverbially) is to lie down, your community is still there to keep you afloat.
We are not meant to live alone. We are meant to have people alongside us to help us grow and to experience the fullness of life. I’ve found that in a new, huge city, there are so many people who are interested in my story – not because my story is particularly interesting – but because I’ve opened up more than I used to. Strangers are rooting for me! They’ve shared about their lives with me. It’s important to grow in community because when one of us struggles, we can all share the load. It’s not a bad thing to open up. You aren’t weak because you’re having a hard time. You’re human, and you’re brave for sharing your story.