Two semesters ago, I enrolled in an American Literature course held at my university. I sat in the room's front row as Dr. Sexton’s voice boomed about our reading’s literary merits. Alongside conversations about rhetoric and narrative structure, Dr. Sexton was also a history buff. I couldn’t go one class without him spending the first 20-minutes babbling on about our readings’ historical context.
But amongst detailed retellings of settler migration patterns and Native American relations, it was the one about the Puritans that stuck with me. To give the Cliff Notes version of Dr. Sexton’s detailed presentation, the Puritans were English Protestants who sailed to America in the 17th century with one goal in mind—to reform the Church of England by creating a society that upheld their views. They drew inspiration from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and planned to call their utopia “A City upon a Hill.” The Puritan’s vision has become synonymous with ideologies relating to the benefits of community.
Hearing this information pour from Dr. Sexton’s gruff voice piqued my interest. Though the Puritans and I have differing views, their vision for community was undeniably attractive. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?
Lost and Afraid
So when I approach this month's theme, bringing up the Puritans and their vision for an ideal community seems appropriate. But, aside from recalling that one memory, I can't shake the
feeling that I may be a bit under qualified to write about “community.”
After all, how do I approach this topic when it feels like I spent most of my life searching for one?
I’ve been thinking very hard about this topic. It usually happens as I lay in bed. I scan my memories, meticulously combing through my past. I try to think of the communities I've considered myself a part of, but the time spent doing so is short-lived—I’m drawn to a blank.
Instead, I can only recall moments of my life when I felt lonesome or lost. I am faced with the alarming reality that my experience with community borders is
non-existent. Making friends or having a hobby was never an issue, but the feeling was always there. It’s like walking in aimless circles or wading in murky water.
I felt a looming uncertainty over whether I could ever find my people.
These anxieties grew within me, eventually manifesting itself in a series of troublesome ways. Throughout high school, I’d be self-critical. Maybe I’m the issue? I’d say. I blamed myself for every negative situation I encountered and retreated into my dark thoughts. Over criticizing myself took a dramatic toll on my self-confidence, leading me to think poorly of myself. I became cynical and angry. I didn’t ask for help because I was too afraid of what others would think.
It's hard to deny how a lack of self-love only enhanced my despair over a lack of community within my life. And like most issues that bother us, I swept it under the rug.
That’s how I lived. I thought it more optimal to endure the pain and emotional hardship. Some days were better, fantastic even. These brief glimmers felt surreal amongst tidal waves of depression and sadness. But in a flash, the feeling of disconnectedness always came back, feeling stronger than ever. I was tired. Like a shadow, the negative thoughts followed, and I was unsure if I would survive these feelings.
A Community Found
Within the past year, I hit rock bottom. My university’s transition to remote learning and the reality of graduating in the coming year was unbearable. Significant changes were coming into my life, and facing the unknown alone felt scary. Though it felt like somebody had thrown a boulder on top of me, I still kept these thoughts to myself.
But by July, something inexplicable happened, forcing me to take accountability for my emotions and uncertainties.
The negative thoughts bubbling in my mind, boiled over. I was sick of staying in bed all day. I was sick of eating only one meal. I was sick of existential self-prodding. I wanted to break free of the fog that consumed me. Resisting these feelings only made me miserable.
I needed to initiate change by finding a resolution.
So when an email from UNLV’s College of Liberal Arts arrived in my inbox announcing a fresh-round of available internships, I took a shot at the opportunity. I’d received notifications in the past but never thought much of them. My previous state of mind had made me feel as though I was unworthy or under-qualified for a position. But as a senior in-need of work experience and much-needed change, I felt obligated to check my options one more time.
At first, I was apprehensive. A majority of the opportunities presented were for corporate positions or organizations within a work field that uninterested me. As I kept scrolling, the list dwindled, and I feared I might not find anything.
But there it was—in giant black letters, and the only option left:
COLA Internship - Content Writer and Editor
The Love Yourself Foundation
It’s difficult to describe the feeling that washed over me. Call it intuition or fate, but everything about the opportunity presented seemed right. LYF’s mission statement to promote self-love and connect the community cemented my already growing interest. At such a low point, how could I pass this up?
I sent my application and eagerly waited for a reply. Within the week, Monica—LYF’s Founder and Director, scheduled an interview with me. We talked about school, self-love, and my goals. I’m not sure if I can put into words my reaction when she invited me to join the team.
Not only did it validate my decision to initiate a change within my life, but alongside the opportunity to showcase my writing chops, I could also connect and form a relationship with the community around me. The prospect to finally belong made itself available, and I was more than happy to oblige.
Clarity and Change
Though I’ve been part of LYF for just two months, I can feel the fog over my mind receding and newfound happiness taking over.
This isn’t to say that all my troubles are solved. Distancing myself from a lifetime’s worth of unhealthy habits and negative reinforcement will take time. But I can gladly say that my perspective has shifted.
For so long, I submitted to the negativity swirling in my mind, believing I was always alone. It was only by acknowledging how this debilitating mindset was affecting me that I sought change.
Looking for community is no easy task. There are moments where the search seems endless, but once found, a community offers security and comfort.
That feeling of belonging is finally worming its way into my mind, and I look forward to what comes out of it.
About the Author:
Born in the Philippines, Aaron moved to the United States at a young age. Having lived in Las Vegas since elementary school, Aaron is a Las Vegas native! He’s always possessed a love for reading and writing and eventually found himself wanting to pursue his passion as an English major at UNLV. Aaron hopes to become a writer for a publication in the personal wellness field.