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Join the Club
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, May 2012

For many of us, the thought of becoming a member of a club involves anticipation, applications, interviews, assessments, dues, and a fair amount of socializing in order to join. For others, there is some dread associated with it, wondering if they will be "accepted" by the group they want to become a part of.

Having neither applied for nor joined a club, I have not experienced the "club world" first hand but I remember laughing at the now infamous Groucho Marx comment, "I sent the club a wire stating, PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER."

But what happens when you become a member of a club you never wanted to join? Never submitted a membership application? Never wanted to be or see yourself among its ranks? Yet something happens in your life, and bingo, you are a member of a club you had no idea existed or had no desire, or maybe even feared, joining.

Within an instant you become a (reluctant) member of the orphan club, the breast cancer survivor club, the young widow or widower club, the parent of a child with special needs club, the divorce club, the partner of someone who has Alzheimer's club, the battered woman club, the sexual abuse survivor club, the spinal chord injury club, the parent of a deceased child club, and countless others.

Not only did you not want to join, you never thought it possible that this new position would define you. Before you may be ready to identify as a member, others either enlist you for membership or refer to you as a member. You may feel stripped of the rest of your person-hood - your identity - other roles and functions you assume.

Yet when we experience life to the fullest, being present during our journeys, we see that we are, indeed, members of many clubs. Those we make an effort to join and those we had hoped to avoid. Initially, despite the way we entered the club, we may believe our person hood is defined by our membership; that our status is enhanced or diminished by that membership. In fact, it is neither elevated nor reduced. It just is.

Belonging to clubs where others have experienced similar life challenges can be comforting in unexpected ways. We feel an association with people we may never, otherwise, have met. We feel we share nothing in common, except this one, deep connection, which others in the clubs we worked so hard to get into, may not be able to relate to; may even avoid referencing when in our company. Asking, "how ya doing?" for awhile but then, over time, for any number of reason, moving on and praying that we do too.

Being a member of the club we never wanted to join can help us immeasurably during tough times/b>, knowing we are not alone; that others have survived the "unthinkable" and they are there for us to observe, learn from, lean on, emulate, rail against, challenge, get through, perhaps transform as a result of knowing they did it, are doing it.

It helps as well as allows us to stay a part of the other clubs, the ones we tried so hard to join, if we want to. Because in the end, we are the sum of all of our experiences and we have many aspects. We integrate it all and go on. Sometimes we need to go to the movies or participate in life without focusing on our loss, and feel "normal" even though we are in the midst of trying to get our minds and arms around what will be a "new normal." With reasonable expectations, we don't expect members in one club to give us what members in the other clubs can give us, and we are less likely to be resentful. It is up to each of us to determine how we get what we need to live our new life fully.

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