Watching Friday’s news reports as the tributes rolled in upon the death (at age 91) of Stan Chambers, legendary newsman at KTLA television.
Mr. Chambers was there at the beginning of television in 1947 and continued working at KTLA until his retirement in 2010. Now the most popular morning news station in Los Angeles, KTLA was family to him and appears to have stayed that way over more than six decades for their many employees, including the office and production staff, reporters, photographers and anchors.
It made me think about how many families or communities we each belong to, especially when we might fear we belong nowhere.
Biological or adopted family
Most of us were born into a family with parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. We usually commit ourselves to each other’s well-being but not always. Some were not even born into loving homes. A baby may be born to a woman living on the streets or close to them. Such children might end up being abandoned or raised in terrible situations of neglect and abuse, until the police or Child Protective Services can step in.
When we marry, we get an automatic new family for better or worse. They may or may not welcome us or treat us well. Much depends on their own past experiences and education (or its lack), because they often don’t know how to treat “strangers” appearing in their midst or fear their little bit of authority is threatened. Kindness can be alien to them. And heaven forbid the new child-in-law should criticize any of the bizarre behaviors of the motley crew! In the very best of circumstances, mothers-in-law are better than any birth mother ever was, but relationships can be a minefield to step through.
Sometimes people feel accepted at work almost immediately. For others, it may take some time, especially if they’re shy or different in some way. On a good team, you don’t mind staying in touch after hours but in many cases, the reality is you don’t want to see them again until you have to. You need a complete change of pace for your own time. I always think “Could I stand to be sequestered with these people on a jury?” If it’s Yes, you’ve likely got a good team, even when you disagree.
If your social life is lacking, get involved in something worthwhile. Attend Neighborhood Watch meetings, volunteer for the Neighborhood Council (heads up: this can get tiresome, petty, and boring, but people are needed). Volunteer at your child’s school, whether it’s in the library or the PTA. Help out at your local animal rescue organization, maybe even fostering pets till permanent homes are found. Check to see if your community has a Facebook page and pay attention to what’s happening all around you.
One of the best ways to meet decent, hardworking people is to find a church or other religious group you’re comfortable with. There’s always something going on and if there isn’t, move away or find a different group that is doing interesting things. There can be Bible study groups, book clubs, sewing groups, youth activities, Young Adult dances and trips, Seniors’ dinners, choir practices, family movie nights, projects to help the needy, genealogy and quilting (all forming families within a family). Our congregation has an informal group of roughly middle-aged guys who enjoy the thrill of riding bicycles fast and trying to avoid crashing while on them.
Many people have activities where they can mingle with kindred spirits to remove feelings of isolation. It can be model railroading, tennis, scuba, surfing, snowboarding, photography or gardening. Others may have a child with special needs and seek out support groups to share their concerns and receive understanding. Yet more are caring for a very sick older relative and desperately need respite along with the support of others in the same situation. Many are students at the high school, community college or university level where they can join clubs.
We Need to Belong
Human beings need to belong. So many are shunned during their school years, leaving deep emotional wounds. Even when those wounds heal, scars remain. We need to know and feel that we are still wanted in the world, decades after the welcoming baby showers on our behalf: Are we loved in our culture, regardless of background? Are we accepted in our country, regardless of national origins? Do we feel safe and respected in our communities? Does at least one of our families/communities pull together and help us when hard times hit? Do we reach out to others when we can?
True health and happiness depend on knowing we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that our existence is not just tolerated.