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Finding comfort in fellowship

I have always enjoyed engaging in thought-provoking conversations. Although I was an inquisitive child, my interest in complex topics began in middle school. After an English teacher asked my class to write a poem about a single word and what it meant to us, I pondered for hours in front of my computer.

As a 12-year-old, I came up with the following 12-line poem.

What is comfort? 

The feeling of home in a world of unbelievable new. 

Slipping your foot into the perfect shoe. 

The companionship of friends on a warm summer night. 

Observing a glowing city on an early morning flight. 

Expressing your true self with mounds of enjoyment. 

Your loved one’s longing kiss upon returning from deployment. 

Strolling a city street with a strong sense of ease. 

The pop of a crackling fire after an adventure-filled day. 

Returning home to a mother’s loving embrace.

That is comfort.

While this poem is by no means perfect, I still think about its content regularly and what it meant to me at the time. The events outlined in its short and simple structure refer to specific events that happened to me or a loved one at some point in time. Nearly 10 years later, I still relate to the sentiments I expressed as a seventh grader. 

What I have noticed, however, is that most of the scenarios described in the poem are momentary. 

Our shoe sizes fluctuate, summer nights become winter mornings, and crackling fires eventually run out of energy to sustain a flame. The friends I referred to in this poem are merely acquaintances now, city streets can be unsettling, and every flight that goes up must come down. Motherly love may be the only unwavering item on my list of comforts, and I am aware that even that is not true for others.

In re-evaluating my poem, I realized that I have evolved tremendously as an individual since I first sat down to draft it. Considering I was not even a teenager when I wrote it, mental maturity is to be expected. However, my biggest takeaway is that my understanding of comfort is much different than it was back then.

Instead of depending on scattered occasions to feel comfort — and the sense of belonging that usually accompanies these scenarios — I now seek a more permanent sense of ease. Not permanent in that it will always look the same, but permanent in that no matter how it evolves it will always be there. 

I have found this comfort in the form of fellowship.

Oxford Languages defines fellowship as a “friendly association, especially with people who share one’s interests.” When most people hear the term, they immediately turn to its religious definition. However, fellowship can also exist in the form of associations, societies, and clubs. Fellowship is often characterized by close-knit relationships and in-depth discussions that result in progress toward a specific goal.

In my experience, I have discovered fellowship in the most unsuspecting places. I recently sat at a round table with five other women, all of which varied in age and disposition. We gathered to discuss faith, spirituality, and what these cross-disciplinary terms meant to us as individuals. As the youngest member of the group, I was a bit intimidated by the wisdom and maturity of the women that surrounded me. 

But after posing the group with a few challenging questions, I suddenly felt at ease as we engaged in meaningful conversation. Although we were all incredibly passionate about the same topic, listening to and understanding different perspectives on relevant issues is not only refreshing but also critical to my growth as an individual.

That individual growth is where I find comfort, and it can be seen in more than just a spiritual sense. Education has always been my best friend, and I feel at my best while in a classroom surrounded by peers. I have always enjoyed the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake, along with considering how that knowledge could be practically applied.

That is why political science, a discussion-based major that requires critical thinking and essay-writing skills, made sense to me. I found fellowship amongst other political science majors at Northern Michigan University, particularly those who took “International Relations and Human Rights” with me during my junior year.

The class was exceptionally small for a college course, with 10 of us showing up regularly. Twice a week we would meet for two hours, the entirety of which was dedicated to three questions from our professor. The questions were not meant to be answered “yes” or “no”. Instead, we were asked to provide thoughtful answers using evidence from our textbooks.

United in our desire to understand international law and its application to human rights violations, each student would provide answers that took minutes to explain. After listening carefully, every hand in the classroom would shoot up. We were all eager to interject our thoughts, whether it be disagreements, counterpoints, or additional information. 

Sometimes the conversations would continue outside of class. Many of us would meet during our free time, gathering with our coffee in a commons area as we pondered the content of each lecture. Perhaps we made no progress in terms of reaching a common goal or solving some overarching issue, but we did develop a better understanding of each other and our goals as political science majors. 

We also helped each other with our capstone papers, which was a bonus to the formed friendships.

So, what does all of this have to do with comfort? Refer back to my poem. The sixth line reads: “Expressing your true self with mounds of enjoyment.” My newfound comfort in fellowship is simply an expression of my authentic self. 

As I said, I have always enjoyed engaging in thought-provoking conversations. Being able to openly discuss issues that are important to me with people who are happy to listen is enlightening. I now find myself eager to meet with the women of the round table, and I am always excited to get dinner with my political science friends.

And unlike every other item in my poem, fellowship is never-ending. Sure, the people or groups you associate with may come and go, but there is always something available to us that will provide that sense of togetherness. We just need to build the courage to go find it. 

For me, comfort is found in those who will listen, understand, and challenge you to become the best possible version of yourself.

— — —

Andie Balenger is a native of Gladstone and is currently attending Northern Michigan University. Her column focuses on college life and runs Thursdays in the Daily Press.

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