In April, GHG hosted several activities at Denver Starfest. Our sing-along was a smash hit, though I do say so myself, especially after audience members pulled out their metaphorical sonic screwdrivers to rapidly repair our technical difficulties. We felt delightful camaraderie with everyone who showed up for our Dwarf Dish Relay and, though everyone was exhausted (or, at least, I was) by the time we made it to our panel on Doctor Who and The Lord of the Rings as Mythology, this did not diminish the fellowship that we managed to create in a single hour.
It was my first time hosting a panel so I made some rookie mistakes. For one, I wish I had allowed more time for audience questions but there was one question that I am not sure we could have answered if we had had all afternoon. A beautiful, clearly creative young woman stood up to confess that she was lonely. She easily makes friends at cons, she explained, but goes home to people who just don’t get her because they don’t get what she loves. We didn’t know her history but I think we could all see her spark.
What do you tell someone who looks like a heroine impatient to find her first adventure? Mostly, you tell her to wait. You tell her, as a couple of our panel members did, that there are people who, for some reason you cannot put your finger on, will one day get her even if they don’t get her Doctor Who or anime obsession. You can’t tell her anything that will make her feel better in the moment because what she probably needs is to live and learn from living. Some of us go to psychics because we want to hear that everything will be okay but anyone who looks into our hopeful faces can tell us that everything will probably ultimately be okay, even if “okay” comes and goes.
Still, there was something of my own life that I wish I had had the presence of mind to share with this young woman. I don’t know if it would have helped her but sharing it would have helped me. Here it is: How to Make Friends In and Out of Fandom:
Many years ago, I read C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, a book that still guides my life, but there was one piece of advice that I took in the wrong way–the idea that, if a tiresome old woman wants a few minutes conversation with you, then you are lucky that this is all the service God requires of you. I told myself how lucky I was a hundred times a day and soon my life was filled with the equivalent of tiresome old women and people who cared about me were expressing their concern at how I had lost myself in service. I think I had over-reached my stage of moral development.
Since then, I have tried to discover a way to care about people that also involves something I care about. I no longer flay myself before an ungrateful public which, given my former placement of myself in “the helping profession” and my espoused philosophy, included some unsavory people, indeed. Now, I start by seeking out the people who like what I like and find that, in taking the step to become a fan, I have already taken care of myself and others.
There are people in Grey Havens Group I never would have met if we did not share an interest but it turns out that our shared interest equals a shared value, no matter how we express it. I believe that God gives us our passions and, in exploring these things we love, we find compassion for others–a lot of compassion! In my experience, if I start by just trying to love someone without concern for what I get out of it, I exhaust myself. I believe that, no matter what we are fans of–whether it is knitting or NASCAR– we are drawn to the higher aspects of it, to what it teaches us about ourselves and our world. George MacDonald wrote that “the world is…the human being turned inside out.” When we reach for something in the world, we are reaching out to each other.
Based on this idea, I am going to make the controversial suggestion that you do not start from a love of people but start from the love of the story or activity that naturally attracts you, then find the people waiting to share that love THEN figure out that everybody loves something and that is what makes them loveable. (For reasons close to my heart, I am working very hard on the NASCAR thing and I think I am making progress but it has taken years.)
No matter what, I think our Starfest friend was on the right track! She is smarter than I was at her age. She knows what she cares about and she is brave enough to stand up and let people know what she wants. The things that bind people together are more important than the personalities, wants or needs of the people themselves. We know ourselves better when we reach out to what we love than when we reach directly into the mystery of who we are. When I watch Star Trek or Doctor Who, I am not just thinking about who I am but about who WE are. I want to find a “we” who wants to be the “us” the Doctor thinks deserves to be saved again and again. I want to see everyone the way he seems to but I am not blessed with his cosmic perspective. For now, I find my answer in GHG, with people whose politics and religion have nothing in common with mine. Honestly, there is not a single person in our group who checks all my “agree” boxes but these are people I love and probably never would have met if we did not passionately adore the same story.
At my best, when I interact with my GHG family, I am not thinking about myself. I am thinking about our story–about how we are all shaped by the thing we all love and how we shape it in turn. It is much bigger and better than any idea we have of it or of ourselves and it spares no room for selfishness but it began in selfishness. It began as a way to find who I love by declaring what I love. I hope everyone who has a passion but feels alone will put out fliers or Facebook announcements asking for companions to watch that next episode, play that next game or read the next book in the series. You are not alone. There are people in your town waiting to love you beginning with a love you already share, a love that defines you more than your worries or habits, a love that is born in the imagination where we are most free to be ourselves.