Yesterday, my Circles group completed our 18-month journey. I wrote this in celebration:

I imagine that we spend most of our lives pretending. Pretending to be happier than we are, or smarter, or skinnier (ahem Spanx). We pretend that we aren’t scared or aren’t lonely or even that we don’t need anyone else. At least that’s what I pretend. We pretend all kinds of things in order to avoid facing who we really are and asking for the help and love that we so desperately want and need.

What I loved the most about Circles is not having to pretend. You could come “as you are” in your workout clothes or your fancy pants. You could bring your best and worst self to Tuesday night dinner and everyone would love you regardless. You could laugh or cry in our group room and nobody would judge you for it. Circles, for me, was a small group and a loving community. Circles was– Circles is– a family. Inside our Circles we were able to take off the masks and stop pretending. In the words of James Baldwin, “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” 

Eighteen months ago, I had this idea that I was going to volunteer *insert patriotic music here*. I was going to give my precious time to a worthy cause. I was going to give back to my community. I was finally going to put into practice all of those pesky things that  I believe and am always going on and on about.

My thoughts, as they so often are, were all about me and how I would feel and what I would get out of it. I had this idea that I was going to go in there and, by goodness, I was going to make a difference.

I never imagined that I would be changed and challenged in the process.

True story: I was a bad actress in high school. I was terribly self-conscious and couldn’t  step outside of myself even to play some else. I was unable to inhabit the life and trials of some other person. Instead, I worried about what the audience was thinking about me. Are they staring at my oddly humped nose? Does everyone think that I’m fat? I’m doing this wrong, aren’t I?  

While my self-consciousness has decreased over the years, it still lingers in the way that I apologize for coming in a door at the same time as someone else, or when I ask a question – I’m always so sorry to bother you — so sorry to take up space. It manifests itself in the way that I am so fearful of doing the wrong thing or being in the wrong location.  Making a fool of myself is a no-go for me. It’s the reason why I refuse to sing during Karaoke. The reason why I never volunteer to get on any stage to do any thing in front of people.

Not at Circles though. At Circles, I had no mask. There was no pretense — nobody had to pretend to be someone else. We were all there because we needed each other. I needed the women in that room as much, if not more so, than they needed me. It was a need I’d never even realized I had. One Tuesday, when we were welcoming new members, I found myself in the center of a circle. The ladies made up a poem of welcome and I spontaneously decided to do an interpretive dance to it. I don’t even karoke so I definitely don’t interpretive dance. But there I was.

I danced that night because the certainty of being loved and accepted made me ever so bold.

I’m talking about myself again (as I am always wont to do here), but what I am trying to say is: the love and affirmation in our Circles group made us all bolder. In eighteen months, I saw the light and confidence of our four Circles leaders grow bright and become more brilliant.  I watched as the other women in that group started to shine and it gave me — it gave us all–the space to shine right along with them.  I cannot wait to see where the next year takes us all.

Learn more about Circles here:

https://opendoorcommunityhouse.org/circles-in-columbus/

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