I don't fit in!
     Several years ago, a well-dressed older gentleman entered an elevator in a tall office building; apparently consumed with whatever business he was taking care of that day.
     It was mid-afternoon of the work day, and there were only three people on that elevator -- the gentleman, a middle-aged woman and a young man – all being transported down to the street level.
     Out of the blue, the woman starts crying. Taken aback, the two men didn't know what to say or do.
     "I'm sorry. I'm making a spectacle of myself," said the woman, sobbing and searching her purse for a handkerchief. The gentleman offered her his.
     "Thank you," she said, "I just don't know anymore. I'm usually not like this, but I just don't know anymore."
     "I'm sure everything will turn out fine -- don't you worry, Miss," he said.
     "No. No. It's not that. I have so much to be grateful for," she said as she shook her head. "It's not what you think."
     Not wanting to pry, her elevator mates stood speechless.
     "It's just that I don't fit in. I've never fitted in. I do everything I'm supposed to do, but I don't feel like I belong," she said, wiping the tears from her eyes.
     The elevator continued its downward journey as the distraught woman tried to compose herself.
     "I'm so embarrassed. You'll have to pardon me. Things have just caught up to me," she said.
     "Miss, I have something I want to tell you, if you have just a minute," the old man said. The elevator opened as they reached the lobby.
     "Oh yes, please, I need to get my mind focused on something," she said.
     They left the elevator and walked into the busy lobby. The old man turned to the young man, and invited him to join them. By this time, the young man’s curiosity had got the best of him.
     The old man's face had some well-worn lines. His grey hair bespoke of his experience, and his dark eyes peered over his bifocals, lending confidence to his words.
     "I don't know what your situation is Ma'am," he said politely.
"However, I was in the same boat many years ago. And while I was in my little personal crisis, I felt the same way. Moreover, I came to find out that everyone, sooner or later, feels like they don't fit in."
     "Sometimes it happens early in life in school. Teenagers are thrown together with strangers and told to fit in. It's almost an impossible situation. Then, the same thing happens at work, or with your neighbours at home. You always feel like you are the odd man out. Everyone else seems to be happy. They look comfortable. They look like they belong, and you always feel like you are an intrusion. I know all about that," said the old man.
     "I know exactly what you're saying," the woman said as she nodded in agreement.
     "A lot of people avoid those feelings by limiting contact. Watching television, or reading books, or sitting in front of a computer provides a comfort zone, and if you can afford to do that, I suppose that's fine if that's what you want to do. However, for many of us, the real world cannot be escaped. We have to work. We have to make a living. And we have to interact with relatives and strangers in settings everyday. And, Ma'am, this is what I want to tell you..."
     "You see, it's all in how you look at it. Some people face those feelings and settings with a sense of adventure. Others face the same situation with dread. Yes, we all have different personalities and some of us are more sensitive and vulnerable than others. However, if you can remember just a couple of things, it will make your life a whole lot easier," he said.
     "Do you work in this building?" he asked.
     "Yes," she said.
     "Well, this is my first time here and I had no idea where I was going, and had never met the person I was going to see. Now, who is the one who feels like they don't fit in?" he asked. "But, somehow, I got through it, and I'll be walking out that front door in a minute without a scratch."
She and the young man chuckled.

     "You can safely assume that the people you are interacting with feel as out of place as you do. So, you simply practice the Golden Rule and make them feel as comfortable as you can. They don't teach the Golden Rule in school, so this is something you have to pick up along the way. Suffice it to say, if you make others feel comfortable, they will reciprocate."
     "Second, remember that in order to sense that feeling of belonging, you have to feel you belong to yourself. In other words, if you aren't settled and comfortable with yourself first, you'll be a fish out of water. Be confident about what you believe. Be true to your feelings. You don't have to pretend to be someone else. Just be yourself and let the world appreciate what you have to offer. Everyone is good at something, including you. Offer what you are good at, and who knows, maybe the world might even pay you for it!” the old man said as he started to laugh.
     "You're not alone," he said as he patted the woman's shoulder. "Don't go nuts trying to force yourself to fit in. There are too many holes and too many pegs out there to even try. Just have a little faith in yourself, associate with people who lift you up, and you'll soon find folks coming to you for help. And when you get lost in helping them, you won't even think about fitting in. At that point, you won't be looking at life, you'll be a part of it."
     "Oh, thank you," she said, as the old man walked toward the street.
     The young man just stood there, not saying a word. At that split second of awkwardness, the woman and the young man extended their hands and shook.
"Nice to meet you," they both said at the same time. And then, just as quickly and simultaneously, they said, "Have a nice day," as they both went in different directions.
     While they never knew each other’s names, it was a flash encounter they would never forget.


-- ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN --

   I glance outside my window
   At the lively group below,
   As they greet each other warmly,
   Basking in true friendship's glow.

   And I wonder if they notice,
   In that safe, smug world they're in,
   One small face pressed to the window,
   On the outside looking in.

   I roam the crowded streets by day,
   With hope, I search each face,
   And yet, each one's a stranger,
   Running his or her own race.

   And I wonder if they understand,
   In that small cocoon they're in,
   How very lonely life can be
   On the outside looking in.

   At night I walk deserted streets,
   With no one by my side,
   And I stop outside each window,
   And gaze at those inside.

   And I wonder if they realize,
   As they eat among their kin,
   How terribly hungry one can get
   On the outside looking in.

   So if there's someone you might know
   Who never seems to smile,
   Then why not give him one of yours
   And make his day worthwhile.

   For circumstances quickly change;
   With one brief gust of wind,
   You just might be that lonely soul
   On the outside looking in.

     -- Linda E. Newman
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