The Year We Left Home

26 Jun

I just finished a marvelous book, The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson.  The book speaks to the heartbreaking feeling of the desire to leave your family/home, in this case a family that lives in Iowa.  While I’m sure people who grew up in the city can relate to this book, it resonated with me particularly because I grew up in a rural setting in Pennsylvania.  And much like many (but not all) of the characters in the book, I too, was eager to get the heck out.  I think that feeling really set in towards the end of college, which was also in a small town of PA, and after I had studied abroad in England and visited several other countries.  When I returned to Susquehanna University for my senior year, I felt so stifled and restricted.  Everything felt narrow–from the campus to the minds of folks around me.  I couldn’t wait to escape to a “big city”.  Now, after living in Boston for nearly 11 years, I find myself constantly homesick for a rural landscape. I miss having a yard like this:

Note that there aren’t any tall buildings visible, or roads, and although you can’t tell this from the photos, there’s very little noise pollution either.  Even as I write this, I wonder, Why the hell was I so desperate to leave?? And yet, this is the constant struggle that I grapple with. I left because I wanted to figure out how to become my own person without being tethered to my family.  I wanted to explore other ways to live than what Lancaster county had to offer.  I wanted to know who I was without anyone knowing who I was.  And I got that anonymity living in Boston.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed living here in this city, but it’s easy to be invisible.  It’s easy to slip by without ever getting to know anyone.  I think one of the major reasons I’ve enjoyed my job for (gasp) ten years, is that it’s based primarily on building relationships with people.  And I love that. I love making connections with other human beings. I like being known.  I like knowing others.  I like the quirks, the contradictions, the astonishment of  (kind of) understanding other people’s thought patterns and ways of living.  Yet, when I leave Boston, even as close as 20 minutes outside of the city, it’s as if I’ve entered a different world.  cashiers actually make eye contact with you! They are willing and even enjoy(!) making chit-chat.  People aren’t in a constant race to get to the next thing, whatever that is.  People aren’t full of pent-up aggression. There’s not as much honking.  I want to live in a place where I’m known and people enjoy talking to each other.

For me, the past few years have been a slow realization that the city isn’t where I’m meant to be.  I’ve also recently decided to start writing again.  It was such a huge part of my life for my first 23 years and then it kind of faded away.  I was reading a journal from 1993, which was both awesome and a little terrifying.  As I did so, it was nice to notice that I’ve always been a night person, and never a morning person and I knew it.  The reason this makes me happy is that I had an awareness of myself even way back then.  It’s incredibly easy to forget that and I often do.  I have a habit, which I’m not going to quantify as good or bad, of wanting to entirely forget parts of my past.  Sure, I’m betting a lot of folks do this, but I feel in certain aspects I’ve done it so much that I can barely even remember parts of my past.  And now I don’t want to do that anymore.  I want to figure out a way to reunite my past with my present.   A good start is recognizing a few things about myself, that I sometimes resist.  In terms of what makes me happy, which is the following: writing, taking photos, connecting deeply with others, nature, my family.

So, this is a bit of a random, rambling post, but the book really made me think about a lot of this, especially my desire to become closer to my family.  It’s hard when you are an eight-hour car ride away.  Some days I do wish I was just down the road.  When I have children, I want them to be as close to my parents as I was to my grandparents.  My grandparents were a huge, wonderful influence on my life.  They were my second home.  I feel so lucky to have had that.  On the other  hand, I’ve built a good life here in Boston, full of good friends, and a theatre community, and a career I enjoy.  So, the process of life continues, I suppose.  I guess this is what “growing-up” is all about–figuring out how much slack to leave in the rope that ties you to your family, and when to make the rope shorter and tighter, and how to unite all pieces of yourself, past and present with your family and yourself in a way that is fulfilling and meaningful and full of life.

PS, Go read the book.  Let me know what you think.

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