I have always liked thinking about the relative simplicity of early humans. I imagine that they lacked the need to organize their peers into little piles like we do today: best friends, colleagues, schoolmates, hated enemies, people they drank with, people they prayed with. There was no hustle and bustle to meet with the disparate groups at dumb meetings. All the human interaction our distant relatives needed could be found within their clans.
The clan just was. In the day-to-day task of survival, there was no time or necessity to look for others outside it who you could “identify” with better or who would support your idealized image of yourself. You were too busy inventing fire, not because you wanted to patent it, but because you needed it to survive. There was no “unfriending” if someone looked at you weird or said something that ran counter to your view of the fire. You needed your cavemates, so you coped with them no matter how they treated you.
Or you clubbed them. Same difference.
The irony of my view of early humanity is that life then wasn’t simple at all. People died young because their bodies were spent from a lifetime of toil and hardship. They were busy laying the groundwork for our contemporary society. They were making fire so we could progress to a time when attending power lunches was as compulsory as awaking with the sun.
I’m not here to compete with those early humans, though. I know my life is cushier and iPadier, but there is no need to apologize for that or repent that I was born in a time when I have the option to have an epidural when I deliver the one child I’ll ever have. We modern folk get into a pattern where we like to out-hardship each other. The wars fought between working moms and stay-at-home moms come to mind; there is constant banter between who has it tougher, when in actuality each set of circumstances presents its own challenges. Parenthood is never easy in any of its forms. And thus is humanity, no matter what century you’re born into.
Unlike the cavemen, we live in a time when we have a need to venture out of the tribes we’re born into to find our people – the people who add texture to our lives. It’s now largely safe to do so (or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. And our moms.) Much like the early nomads, we travel the Earth to look for the things and people that click for us and who make sense within the personae we try to craft for ourselves. We open our mouths and talk along the way so we can see if those we meet speak our language.
In my experience, they often don’t. It’s frustrating to look for a group that I can be a part of and then just get shut out again and again because I just don’t fit neatly within it. It’s not that their tribe is excluding me intentionally; the rejection is mutual because they don’t feel right to me either. Did those ancient humans even have this luxury of choosing confidantes and allies from a large pool?
But then, through trial and heartbreak and very literal searching, we find them: the people we can pour our hearts out to safely. They help us understand the complexities of this overwhelming world we’ve created, a world that’s moved beyond hunting and gathering and instead fills its days with status updates and Instagrammed omelettes. We don’t have to apologize for our quirks and foibles to them because they just get us. They understand the parts of us that we don’t even understand ourselves, and we both grow out of the experiences we have together. They challenge us in a nonconfrontational way to be our best selves.
These are our new, modern clans: the people we find who help us keep our paltry fires flickering even when the rain starts pouring. Our people are our families, yes, but they are also the kindred spirits we meet along the way. The coworker who becomes a friend when they catch you crying in the bathroom, the classmate you barely noticed at first but who eventually becomes your spouse, the person behind the screen who reads your story and tells you they love you for it.
We pick our people up in unexpected places and somehow form a community that our predecessors would identify as a tribe, a tribe that keeps the world small even as it expands around us.
Who are your people?