Belonging with cicadas.  Fitting in with introverted dogs.

I suspect they’re quite cozy and content right where they are.  After all, it’s dark and quiet.  It’s warmed by the radiance of the sun, cooled by filtered rain water.  There is plenty to eat.  It is utterly safe, protected, at peace.

For almost their entire lives, cicadas live underground.  For nearly as long as we like to nurture our human children – feeding them, protecting them, keeping them at home – these other growing, developing, and changing creatures are coming into their own maturity as well.  And that ultimate emergence, lurching into the next reality, can be rather alarming for both species.

I suspect, for cicadas, however, this stage of life is particularly brutal.  And yet, they do it anyway.  They choose by instinct to do it.  They spread their vulnerability along with their wings, opening into a strange new place and being.  They must do it, of course, to fulfill their lives.  But how scary it must be in such unknown territory.

Perhaps this is rather like what Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University, meant when he wrote:  “the best college may be the one where you don’t fit in.”  Not all of us go through college.  But, as Mr. Roth observed, those of us who do, seem to choose one where we feel comfortable before we even attend one class or unpack one suitcase.  We choose to be where we look like everyone else, think like everyone else, want the same things, believe in the same ideas, feel the same emotions, have had the same experiences.  Places that are familiar, with people we already know.  Where we “fit in.”

I suspect many of us continue this search to “fit in” for most of our lives.  Where we work, where we live, where (and if) we worship in our faith, where we shop and eat and play, who our friends are.  

There is a CNN video that is making the rounds right now on social media, captured by a couple who have what they call a “calm dog” (in other words, a real introvert).  They heard about, and took him to participate in, a local “gathering of introverted dogs.”  As one observer expressed it:  “It was like watching a pasture of cows.”  There was no running, no playing, no jumping, no sniffing or wagging of tails, not even any making of eye contact; no enthusiastic violation of personal space of any kind.  Just standing.  Staring into the distance.  One little dog was snapping at bugs as they flew past his mouth – but only from a sitting position.  It had sounded like such a good idea.  But it became just strange because they were all the same, introverted (aka “calm”) dogs.  Each was approaching life and each other in the same way.  There were no new ideas, no curiosity, no spontaneity.  They all “fit in.”  But fitting in is not the same as “belonging.” 

I suspect the cicadas of the world understand this.  They sense the worth of the chance and the challenge of it all.  Finding their way out from their familiar places and pasts, they are able to feel true sunlight on their backs for the first time.  They hear a cacophony of sounds they’ve never known; they see a brightness of colors they’ve never experienced or even imagined.  New, fresh breezes lift up their very wings.  They learn to touch new sensations … along each other.  They know they don’t fit in here, but they belong here.

It’s true that with emergence, comes the chance of being eaten alive.  But the greater chance is that it won’t happen.  And with such emergence comes the opportunity of belonging.  And with belonging come all of our surprises, as well as the discovery of the gifts of others – all of our unique experiences and expressions, our different perspectives and flashes of brilliance, our possibilities and collaborations, grace and gratitude, peacemaking and pathfinding; it’s fulfilling our purpose in life, not simply filling a space.  

Fitting in is sitting not too close to each other, not touching, not seeing, not understanding.  Belonging is a relationship.

Perhaps we should consider the wisdom of cicadas and introverted dogs.  Don’t fit in.  Belong.