A Sense of Belonging

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[This Commentary originally appeared in the August 30, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]

CarosaCommentaryNewLogo_259Certain environments intimidate me quite easily. I attribute my dread to breeding (and possibly genetics). From the point we first become socially aware until we are finally released from the protective custody of family, we absorb mere echoes from the outside world. Yet until we embark into society alone do we genuinely rethink the axioms of our naïve view of the universe.

Growing up infuses a sense of culture in each of us. Not only do we place ourselves within that colloquial space our immediate family and friends inhabit, but through the observations of others and what little we can understand from the mass media, we rank our own group’s status among the many diverse classes civilization offers. Consequently, the experiences of our young age sow the seeds of future intimidation.

Perhaps the most elite genre of humans can be found in the history books. Almost immediately we respect history markers, often elevating them to unreachable pedestals. We simply cannot imagine the arrogance required to ever assume we can join the club of revered, centuries dead, individuals. After all, not even the best public relations firm can guarantee a paragraph in The Encyclopedia Britannica.

For some of us, the dread includes living people as well. We have been brought up to believe in the theory of upward mobility, but the legacy of our ancestors impedes any notion we might have concerning the reality of that theory. Call it an innate sense of understanding – the understanding that there exist people who have had benefits we have not had and the understanding that one can only build upon the foundation which birth has supplied.

Perhaps the lack of confidence with which we speak comes directly from the European serfs we call our forebears. Without doubt, the attitude may well be responsible for the unfortunate lack of vitality displayed by Europe’s peasant caste. With the burden of history, indeed, western civilization, we can quickly see how the affliction of intimidation can be called genetic.

If we have never experienced even modest success, we can easily believe no manner of success can or will ever visit us. We forget the sage advice given to us as five years olds: you’ll never learn how to ride a bike if you don’t try. Then, we confronted and overcame our fear. Now, we laugh with disbelief at the notion we once thought learning to ride a bike represented an impossible feat.

The above lesson of confidence becomes harder to apply to greater changes in our life. When faced with seemingly insurmountable barriers or unknown terrain, we often view the option of turning back as the more favorable (i.e., comfortable) alternative. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t.

Given the above preamble, the personal fears which accompanied me upon my arrival to New Haven twelve years ago seem to have been a natural extension of my upbringing. To me, college, (in particular, the one I was fortunate enough to attend), represented that segment of mankind one generally only experiences through history books. I most certainly knew of no one who studied at an Ivy League University. In fact, I knew precious few people with a four-year degree (or the ambition to obtain one).

Like any other college freshman, if not more so, I tentatively stepped out of my father’s car onto the sidewalk next to the Old Campus, the rather expansive dormitory used exclusively by freshman. I knew that step marked a very important point in my life. I knew the step signaled my leaving the sheltering cocoon of my parents. Just because I knew I had to take the step didn’t mean I felt comfortable doing it.


Author’s Note: My mother, ever the revisionist historian, tells a totally different story. She says I opened the car door even before the vehicle came to a complete halt. She further claims I leapt out with both feet, rolled in the grass, then ran off to find my room and roommates, leaving my father alone to do all the unloading. Personally, I think she made it all up to make me feel better about the entire experience.

Of course, as every college freshman finds out soon enough – you’re not the only college freshman around. Everybody else in your class has the same fears, the same worries and the same tentativeness. It might take a few days or a few weeks to find this out, but you will discover this.

Once you get over this hurdle, the rest is gravy. Sure, there might be killer home work assignments, terribly bad test scores and embarrassingly large football defeats, but at least you know you now have a new family of friends to rely on. And because you will share four years of common experience, these people will become your closest friends. You will instill within one another a sense of belonging.


Editor’s Note: The Carosa Commentary represents the musings of its author, and in no way reflects the opinions of this newspaper, its management, or those of us not descended from “European serfs.”

Next Week #74: Double Sessions (originally published on August 23, 1990)
Next Week #76: Saddam’s Savage State (originally published on September 6, 1990)

[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]


  1. Chris Carosa says

    Author’s Comment: I rolled my eyes when I saw this “Editor’s Note” tagged on at the end of the Commentary. Given its apparent silliness, some thought I wrote it as a joke. I didn’t. I never was able to find out the reason it was added. After all, this piece was written – again with my newly university-bound sister in mind – for the benefit of all incoming college freshmen. As is usual with my writing, I first acknowledge that which must be overcome, then draw on my own experiences to craft an uplifting and hopefully inspirational solution to that obstacle.

    Well, at least my little sister appreciated it.

    A note about my original “Author’s Note”: My mother’s recollection of events matches more closely to reality than what I wrote here of my “concerns.” In fact, I was so excited about my new environs, I ditched my parents and never looked back. I don’t remember any of my classmates being homesick, well, at least the ones I hung out with. More to the point, I anticipated the freedom college would bring, not so much from my parents and family, but from this awful stereotype foist upon me by my high school community – students and teachers alike. College gave me a chance not so much to recreate myself, but to return to the self I had always been. Ironically, given the above content, the “me” that had been among those immigrants of Buffalo.

    In truth, the supposed lack of comfort I write of in the above piece is purely fictitious. I never viewed my parents as a “sheltering cocoon” and I never once despaired taking whatever forward steps I needed to take. To this day, I am an avid practitioner of the “ready, fire, aim” philosophy of the serial entrepreneur. So, why did I write this? Remember who I wrote it for. My baby sister, as any youngest child often does, perhaps did experience this sheltering cocoon. I thought there might be a chance she’d view taking the next step with a tad bit of apprehension. I was more interested in my her experience more palatable than in relating the cold hard facts of my dispassionate collegiate release. The one part of this article that stands true, however, remains the closing paragraphs. The Sense of Belonging has lasted these decades and remain close to my college friends.

    Now for the real irony. I reposted this as my eldest daughter began her college career. When I told my mother about this Commentary, she relayed her real fear of my going away to college, specifically, going to Yale University. Apparently, when she was younger, she knew someone who went to an elite school. This person, also a descendent of Italian immigrants, found herself among the snobbish elite one envisions habituate such colleges. My mother’s friend lost herself, her roots and, ultimately, her confidence trying in vain to measure up to the bluebloods in her class. She returned a changed person, maybe even forever imprisoned in the self-imposed exile of worse than underachievement, but false achievement. My mother feared I’d face the same fate. On the fields of Eli, during my undergraduate era, the honest muscle of a blue collar pedigree far outscored that of the blue blood. In this proto-Reagan world, the iconography of John Wayne now stood as tall as that of John Lennon. Rather than ostracized for my immigrant forbears, I became the preternatural guru of “real world” experience. For many who had lived a coddled life of comfort, the story of these experiences held them in rapt awe. In a final irony, rather than me wanting to become them, they wanted to become me.

    Well, not my real close friends. They were already me. Or I was already them. I mean, we were us. Together, we had this unimpeachable sense of belonging.

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