Seven years ago I moved 350 miles away from the small town where I spent the second half of my childhood.
This was something I started thinking about almost as soon as we moved there. It wasn’t a dangerous or terrible place to live by any means…I was just never very good at small town life. I like being able to go to the grocery store without running into anyone I know, to never be asked why I don’t share a last name with my husband, go to church or have kids.
I love the anonymity and creativity of Toronto. Here I’m surrounded by people who, even if they don’t share my proclivities, genuinely don’t care what it is I do (or believe) so long as I’m not harming anyone else against their will.
This. Is. Amazing. 10, 15 years ago I had no idea I’d end up with this kind of freedom.
Then I go home for a visit. The town I grew up in hasn’t changed very much. Many of the people I grew up with still live there or in similar places elsewhere in the midwest.
Most of my non-traditional (for lack of a better term) friends have also moved away. I grok why this happens. If I moved back now I’d either have to be really, really quiet about huge swaths of my life or pull a Bruce Gerenscer and be the brunt of a delightful mixture of pity, scorn and failed conversion attempts. 😉
After my recent trip back home, though, I wonder if small towns don’t need more Bruce Gerenscers.
Does he perplex people?
Does he aggravate them?
Does he make them think?
I don’t really do that on a daily basis. City-dwellers are surrounded by so many different points of view that it’s more difficult for them to assume that everyone agrees with their beliefs. It’s hard to surprise them.
As much as I love this sometimes I think it’s better if us “shocking” people stay put. It’s much easier to dislike a label than it is to dislike a neighbour, family member, or friend.
There’s real value in being the only X in town, in putting a human face on a mistrusted minority group.
I just don’t want to do it personally.
What have been your experiences as the odd one out in your community? Why did you move away? Why did you stay?
Thanks for the encouragement. Some days I want to blend back into the crowd. It is easier, far more peaceful. However, I have to live with myself and I often think about what world I want my grandkids to I’ve in. For these reasons and others, I can not be silent.
It was good to see you last weekend.
You’re welcome, Bruce!
Most excellent post! 🙂
I find it difficult being different when I go home. But I still love it. There are so many people there that I see, that it doesn’t matter if I am different. I see everyone briefly enough so that we don’t have to meddle on each other’s business very much. But… I don’t come from a small town. More than a million ppl in my town, so it is different.
Do I shock them? Hell I do. But it is good for people to be shocked, even if they don’t come to think like you, their minds are pried open just a little. My hope is that I am leaving some sort of legacy behind in my family, that the next person who decides to step away from the faith will have me to think of for strength.
I like the way you think.
Great post as usual!
I grew up on Long Island, lived there with my parents until I left for college in New Jersey. I always considered myself a “country boy” growing up. There were lots of open spaces and farms. Moving to NJ for a couple and a half years exposed me to the more populated city life. I kind of liked the new experience and the new relationships of college life. We weren’t far from NYC and sent quite a few weekends visiting the big city. It was all very exciting and new but after meeting my wife and moving back to LI I realized I had a limited tolerance for that big city life. After a year there we moved to Harrisonburg VA to take a job working for your grandfater. What a beautiful place that was to live. After 10 years there we move to Pittsburgh, Danielle’s home town. We have a lot of hills here and it doesn’t take long to get to get to open spaces.
I never knew all of that, Fred. Did Danielle grow up in a rural, suburban or urban area?
She grew up in the house we live in now, small suburban Island in the Ohio river.
Nowadays, I like going home to visit the small town I spent part of my youth in (and where my parents live, so it = kinda like a hometown). Because I’m much more sure of myself now, the scorn/shock/whatever doesn’t affect me as much. Plus, visiting is a lot different than living. But I would never move back, no matter how much good it would do for society. Someone commented on my post about choosing between Ivy League and a state school – that I should choose Ivy League because anything else, even if it is the morally “right” thing to do, would be self-handicapping. I think that kind of applies here – sure, you might be paving the way for future generations of oddballs living in small towns, but at what cost to your personal happiness?
I like the way you think.