There was a wonderful story on CBS Sunday morning about a young man called Denis Estimon. He came to the United States from Haiti when he was in first grade and he spoke about the isolation he felt in school, especially at lunch.
It was so painful for him that when he got into high school he created a club called We Dine Together. Their mission is to go into the courtyard during lunchtime where everyone eats and look for people that were sitting alone. Instead of ignoring them, the people in this club would go and connect, getting to know the person. He said that hundreds of new relationships were created.
When I watched this story, my heart filled up and spilled over with joy. It felt like somebody was finally recognizing the isolation that we all feel at some level. When they interviewed Allie Sealy, another member of the club, she cried while expressing the deep pain of feeling like she was an outsider. She said, “I came from a school where I always had friends to one where I had nobody. With no one to sit next to, lunch can be the most excruciating parts of the day. Meeting someone who actually cares and listens to what you have to say, really makes a difference. And that can happen at lunch, that can happen at our club.”
As she cried, tears came for me too, for memories of my childhood came flooding back. I was so shy when I was young that lunch periods were excruciating. As I sat watching this show, I put my hand over my heart and let those feelings know that I recognized them and recognized their pain. That is not what I did when I was young. Then, I just wanted to get as far away from that pain as I could. So, I overate, I drank, and I did drugs. Now I don’t need to banish these feelings anymore. Now I no longer need to turn away from myself when that pain of feeling so alone appears. Instead, I am able to be as inclusive with myself and my own pain as these teenagers were being with the other kids at their school.
You may not have sat alone at lunch in school, but you still have had some of these feelings of not belonging. When I shared this story with a friend of mine, she said that she never sat alone, but was always trying to figure out how she could sit with the cool kids. Can you feel the heartache of that? And even if you were one of the cool kids, there was still an unsettledness, a fear of not being enough, or maybe a feeling that they will find out that you are a fake. And if you were one of the cool kids, there was also the suffering of putting other people out of your heart, of seeing the people that are not sitting with the cool crowd as ‘less than’. Even though it may not be evident, that pain is very corrosive and heart-closing,
They also interviewed a young man who said he had the choice of continuing to turn out for football, along with all its perks and a possible scholarship, or being a part of this club. He said it was much more important in his life by far to be a part of this club. Was connecting with other people and caring for them that important to you when you were young? Probably not. But something is happening in the human psyche. Inclusion is beginning to make sense. When I went to school there was not even a semblance of a club like We Dine Together. Now that Denis has graduated, he is traveling the United States and inviting other schools to create the same kind if club!
The movement towards inclusion that is at the core of We Dine Together is what we all deeply long for– to be accepted as we are – to matter to other people. What we most deeply long for is to be seen, and heard, and valued just as we are.
How does this shift happen in our world that seems to be going in the direction of exclusion? It happens inside of individual human beings. It happens as we discover how to include ourselves – how to bring every single part of ourselves and every single thing that we have done in our lives back home to our hearts. It is the place where you have room for everything, both inside of you and outside of you.
Are you willing to know, at least for this moment, that you are okay as you are? Are you willing, for this moment, to meet yourself in your own heart? I assure you, the more you make this courageous step, the more you will be able to meet other people with the inclusion of your heart. And inclusion is much more contagious than exclusion!