Last December, the “Opinion” section of The New York Times hosted a discussion – “Room for Debate” – called “Life in a Mobile Nation.”
Six debaters explored this question: “Can one city be “ideal” for a lifetime? Or, if people relocate over and over throughout their lives — either because they can afford to or because they can’t afford not to — how does that change family life, education and community ties?”
That question hit home, and I started reading like a hungry wolf, gulping in the words as a sort of attempt to better understand this topic that so intrigues me: how place shapes us.
For the past eight years, my husband and I (and more recently our two young children) have moved to a new place just about every year. We have moved seven times in as many years, and in that amount of time have called four states home. Those states do not count the state where I grew up – Wyoming – nor the state where I attended college – Minnesota.
“Are you in the military?” we are often asked. “No,” I say, “but we might as well be.”
I have prayed for a sense of rootedness, for the opportunity to settle and settle good and hard, for the opportunity to, at last, buy our first home. While God has allowed that sense of rootedness to set in for a time (we always sink ourselves into whichever community we find ourselves, as best we can), the door does not seem to be opening for a long-term (dare we say permanent?) stay any time soon.
The non-adventurous, safe part of me – that girl who spent her entire childhood being raised in one town and one home – wrestles with this daily. How can I bloom where I’m planted, knowing that circumstances will dig me right out of the ground in a matter of months?
But the adventurous, open-minded side of me – that girl who married a Navy guy who’s proud to say he’s lived in XX number of states and would love to live in X place because he’s never lived there – seeks the unmatched opportunities that this mobile lifestyle affords.
I realize two things. First, our frequent moving is an opportunity for me and us to rise to a challenge, to be stretched in ways we never thought possible.
One day, I was unloading dishes from the dishwasher and bemoaning the fact that we can’t just seem to settle down somewhere. I heard these words (I kid you not): “Don’t you think I can have something even better for you than what you think you want?” I responded, for a second ready to stand up to a good argument. “I love our life here. I don’t want a change.” Came the response: “I have something better for you. Better than you can imagine.”
I had to put my hands on the counter to steady myself. Those words are still sinking in.
Second, our many moves have exposed us to new friends, solid relationships, and a diversity of lifestyles – opportunities we never would have had we chose to stay in one place. You grow up hearing that warning, “Don’t talk to strangers.” Because dangerous people can lurk everywhere. But there is a flip side: Good people, too, are everywhere. It’s pretty cool that when we sit down to address our Christmas cards each year, our mail will cover at least half of the country.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s still easy for me to fall into the longing for geographic stability. You miss out on some big things when you hope around the country year-by-year. The chance for your kids to “grow up” with certain friends their age. The chance to know one community inside out because you’ve lived there your whole life. The chance to build up equity in a home.
Like the next person, I fall prey to “the grass is always greener” syndrome. But if I choose to believe that, at least for now, settling down in one spot is not God’s plan for us, I feel those sparks of excitement in wondering, “What’s next?” And the more I think about it, I don’t think there exists an “ideal city,” at least for a lifetime.
What about you? Do you think one city can be ideal for a lifetime? Where do you fall on the spectrum? Have you lived in one place your whole life? Have you moved frequently? How has your lifestyle contributed to or detracted from your involvement in civic life?