I take my sense of belonging where I can get it, and this weekend it was a baseball game. I always feel a sense of triumph when I manage to attend one without decompensating, because I don’t do well with crowds and the physical challenges used to be too much for me.
My love of baseball games has, to be honest, very little connection with actually being a sports fan. Baseball is really the only sport I know much about, and that’s due to marrying into a family of San Franciso Giants fans. I just went with it, and have acquired knowledge and enthusiasm gradually.
But the real draw for me is the tribal quality of being a fan. All my life I’ve felt a strong sense of longing to belong; to be part of something greater than myself. I have always loved the magic of melding energy with a group, whether it was in a choir or at a concert. As an introvert (not to mention the other things I am) I have to navigate this desire carefully. It doesn’t help that my personality type is what one testing scheme describes as a loyal skeptic–someone who takes enormous pleasure in being part of a cause, but always tends to think her way out of it after a while by finding deal-breakers.
It’s what ruins church for me, something that really annoys me because spirituality is so important to me and I would love to share that energy with others. In my life I have belonged to many subcultures, and still count myself as a member of some, such as recovery folk. But I find it hard to submerge myself fully and be a member of the tribe. Even when I’m acting like a member of the tribe, part of me always believes that those around me belong more than I do, not only on the outside but on the inside as well.
A baseball game is an easy, harmless and temporary vacation to the land of being one of the crowd. This weekend, for example, it started when we all got dressed. Orange is the Giants color, and Giants fans have an astonishing dressing-for-games percentage. So my husband got the black T-shirt with the orange lettering, I wore the soft old orange one, and my daughter looked disturbingly attractive in her gray and orange one. (She used to take her Giants stuffed animals with her, but no longer.)
The subway trip into the city is was the next phase of the tribal experience. On the train, you would have to count the number of people not wearing the team colors, and this was not even an especially significant game. My orange T-shirt marked me as “one of us.” All who were wearing the ritual color knew where we were going, and why, and what we wanted to happen when we got there. Sweet unity; sweet lack of controversy!
Why do I feel such satisfaction from it? That orange shirt makes me feel like a first-grader who gets to wear the special hat or clap the erasers. I’m a good girl. I’m doing something that meets with the approval of the tribe for once. Something in me wriggles with pleasure, like a dog who just got a loving pat.
Getting off the train, I made my way up through the levels of the stadium, my familiar disorientation at being in a crowd balanced with this pleasure. Once safe in my seat, enjoying the view, I looked out at the sea of orange with even more pleasure. As the game progressed, I continued to bask in the feeling of normalcy and unambiguity. I didn’t have to think everything out, or weigh different points of view, or empathize with anyone, or try to decide how best to help others understand, or how to accept that someone isn’t going to understand right now, or plan how I am going to do better tomorrow, or fight off the urge to…well, you get the idea.
My job was simple! When the Giants got a hit, I cheered like everyone else. There wasn’t any debate about whether the hit was a good or bad thing. We all wanted the Giants to win, and it was okay to want that. As it turned out, the Giants spanked their opponents 15 to 5, so I had plenty of opportunities to yell.
Yes, it was a nice little vacation, but now I’m back to planet Me.