– Terry Pratchett
I don’t have a contagious infection. I’m not prone to accidents. I’m not a reality show participant. But I live in a bubble. That bubble is also affectionately known to me as my hometown. I ventured to live elsewhere for a few years, although not far away. I returned, enthusiastically, to live closer to family after having a child. Now as I approach mid-life, I’m questioning if this bubble is serving more as a padded cell.
Every day I drive to work passing landmarks that chronicle my childhood. Forty-something years young I’m already playing the “I remember when” game during my daily commute.
“I remember when that strip mall was a Burger King.”
“I remember when I worked there, assembling trophies…”
“I remember when my friend’s bike was stolen and found near those railroad tracks.”
It makes me think of the movie Forget Paris. William Lewis (a.k.a Uncle Lewis in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) played the father-in-law of Billy Crystal’s character whom Crystal cared for during his off-season from serving as an NBA referee. Crystal carted the older man around to appointments while the man sat passenger-side randomly reading building signs out loud as they drove down streets. Eventually the monotony drove Crystal nuts. Having driven my hometown streets for as long as I have, I fear the monotony of seeing familiar sites may be getting to me too. While I’ve always defended the comfort of my bubble in the past, more often than not, the voice in my head now says to me, “I can’t believe you still live here.”
Years ago when accused by a friend from the coast as having no exposure to diversity when it came to people, culture or wardrobe (apparently us Midwesterners all dress alike), I was proud to live in my bubble. There was and still is some semblance of safety associated with it. But lately, its comfort has ironically become unsettling. If being completely honest, I’m worried that still living in my hometown has kept me from experiencing a full life thus far. But today, Terry Pratchett spoke to me. Not in person of course as the United Kingdom’s best-selling comic fantasy novels lives overseas. He spoke to me through his quote displayed on my daily calendar.
Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
The timing of seeing this quote was impeccable. I had recently talked with my husband about being curious if some may look down on me because I’ve never left my hometown. (I know, I know…who cares what other people think, right?) But after reading Pratchett’s quote I realized that it’s not as though I never left as much as I chose to return. Big difference.
It spurred a memory of when I first graduated college. My desire was to find a job in advertising in or near my hometown. There are only a few larger agencies in the city and when I’d drive by one in particular I’d stare at the logo on the building dreaming of what it would be like to work there. That was a definition of success for me. But even then I contemplated if sticking around home was “lame.” That’s when a friend reminded me that beginning your career by finding a job anywhere in the United States could be considered easier than hand-picking a specific place. Saying to yourself “I’m going to work there,” and then actually doing it… THAT, my friend said, would be a proud achievement.
Upon reading Pratchett’s quote, I realized my friend was right. That agency I had set my sites on? It was more than a decade after college, but I eventually worked there. Funny thing is it wasn’t all I had built it up to be in my mind. It was a really fun place with extremely talented people. However, looking back, I think my pride in working there was more about having said I would and doing so rather than anything I accomplished while being there.
Pratchett’s quote was a good reminder that I’m not “stuck” in my hometown. I chose to come back here for good reasons:
1. Familiarity. One of the very things I worry is monotonous is one of the reasons I chose to come back home – the surroundings are familiar. There’s a certain comfort in knowing the hallways of where your child goes to school. And when I took my child trick-or-treating in my parents’ old neighborhood, I liked knowing that the hands which gave me a candy bar on Halloween are the same ones or relatives of those dropping treats into my son’s bucket.
2. Shared values. Despite what others might say, I like to think I turned out alright. I escaped youth without any major emotional scars or damage done as a result of poor decisions. While a lot of that is due to parenting, I also think it’s the result of shared values by people in the environment outside the home. Just the other day I ran into my sixth-grade teacher who was helping to coach his grandson at a basketball tournament. He remembered who I was. He also shared that he ran into a classmate of mine not long ago too. This classmate is still someone I consider a friend and whose mother is experiencing some health troubles. My teacher was not only aware of it, but apparently volunteered to my friend and past sixth-grade classmate that if her mother needed help getting to appointments or running errands around town to give him a call for help. Fundamental values.
3. Loved ones nearby. Nearly everyone I know who moved away from their hometown says one of the greatest challenges they face is not having family and friends nearby to help with children or life’s difficulties. I give people who stepped out of that circle of comfort a lot of credit. They are forced to form new relationships and to build trust outside their already established connections. Living only a couple of miles from one of my brothers and 10 minutes from my dad are certainly points I consider to be bonus.
Now, let me be clear in that I’m not saying there aren’t benefits to moving away from your hometown. There are definitely qualities to be gained by challenging yourself to establish a new home away from home. You meet new people. Get exposed to new cultures. You are forced to fend for yourself and hope for the kindness of strangers. You are reminded that the world is bigger than the box you once lived in. I believe there is a lot of truth to the saying that you can’t grow if you never step outside your comfort zone. But personally, after reading Pratchett’s quote and going through the process of writing this little story, I guess I’ve returned to respect my decision of returning to my hometown.
I guess you could say I’ve decided that I’m not quite ready to burst my bubble…yet.