At the end of my fourth year in the seminary where I was studying to become a priest, the rector brought me to his office, and told me that I would have to leave, because people in a parish would find me uncomfortable to be with. His judgment devastated me, chiefly because he was letting me know that my “not fitting” was somehow wrong.
Before this, I had had to do what I was supposed to do, but I hadn’t
worked to fit myself into the “people pattern” around me. I have
learned, since seminary days, to fit myself in, a bit better, not as a
goal in my life, but as an approach to dealing with people, so that we
can be more comfortable with each other, no matter why we are together.
What helped me most, I think, in gaining this approach was teaching for
two years at Salve Regina College (now Salve Regina University) in
Newport, Rhode Island, where I was swamped with people I loved, and
people who loved me, convinced that we would never hurt each other in
any deliberate way. Since that time, I think, I have been able to
recognize that “fitting” is not something that happens to me; it is
something I have to do. This is true for other people who have trouble
fitting in. In some ways, I think, most of us have this problem during
enough of our lives so that we recognize that through sharing how we
have dealt with it, we can help both other people and ourselves.
Our first temptation is to reduce what we mean by “us” to some category
from the real total “us” with which we feel a comfortable
identification. What we need, instead, is to broaden that
identification by learning to increase our understanding of different
ways that different people find to get themselves to fit. So there are
two steps, almost always in this order: first, make the room; second
fit your self into the room that is given you. Both of these steps are
necessary; both demand change of self, and both demand continued
effort. “I’ve done it” is never true.