Monday, November 29, 2010

Small Towns

Growing up in Houston, living in Midland, Lafayette, and then Austin, you could say I'd lived in a fair amount of different places. However, they were all similar in the sense that I lived somewhat in a cocoon. Even when I worked with one group of people, played sports with another group, went to church with yet another group, I was always in a group of people with similar interests and fairly similar backgrounds (racial, socio-economic, education, etc.). Nothing wrong with that. 

When I moved to the Boonies, and began living 10 miles from the nearest town (with a population of only 3,500), I soon noticed the difference. Especially when I began teaching high school, it hit hard. The people I went to church with were the same ones that I saw at the grocery store, and they were the same ones I taught, and the same ones I ran into when I wanted to be inconspicuous at the movie store. There was no anonymity; no safe zone. I felt a bit claustrophobic at times, and honestly still do occasionally.  I don't think I could actually live IN town; at least I have my physical safe zone of acreage.

It fostered introspection, to determine why I felt defensive, why I felt almost violated running into people when I just wanted to be invisible. I realized that small towns create accountability, even unto yourself. I may dress up for a museum social event and look half-decent, but those very same people are likely to see and/or smell me sweaty in old work clothes the next day at the hardware store. Can't fake that. I may teach Sunday School on Sunday morning, but those same people will be drinking beer with me at the next quinceanera. I may be a lawyer now, but my clients know me personally, and remember me when I was barefoot and pregnant years ago.

Living near a small town has actually become quite liberating for me. I can be who I am, if only because I must be. I can be disjointed, unpredictable, outgoing, quiet, a mom, a student, a daughter, a friend, a "I don't know her, but I know who she is" person. I can make decisions based on what I believe to be best for me, and not worry about fitting in, because I now understand that I will be found out if I try to hide. I enjoy my uniqueness, rather than compare myself to others to make sure I fit in with whatever standard they currently embrace.

John Donne had it right and wrong when he wrote "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." I say we are all islands of individuality, but we are all protected by the archipelago of community. Ripples of waves wash ashore from other islands, and bring me gifts, but I am still separate. I am responsible for myself and the impact I have on others, but it is much, much more a gift than a curse. I need to keep my trash from washing ashore my neighbors' islands, but I need to be within easy reach.

Further, my small town gave me the opportunity to learn to appreciate and truly love people who are different from me. When crimes happen, I know and love both the victim and the perpetrator. I want accountability, but not revenge through hatred. I feel empathy for the truly poor, yet respect those that work hard more than those that have been given much.

Thank you, my dear small town, for opening my eyes and heart and soul.


Driving home today, I saw the ubiquitous buzzards at a few roadkill sites. Have you ever wanted to be a buzzard? I doubt it.

Most people choose to relate to beautiful, powerful and graceful animals, and if they were forced to "be" a bird, they might be an eagle (strong, fearless, predator), a dove (symbol of peace and love) or maybe even an African paradise flycatcher (gorgeous colors, with a flowing ribbon of a tail). But I think I want to be like a buzzard. Cleaning up others' problems is not particularly thrilling for me, but I do want to be useful. Being big and black isn't my usual appearance goal (not that there's anything wrong with that, but being a middle-aged white woman directs my reality in other ways), but I'd rather be common and invisible than gaudy and ostentatious. Waiting for my meal or an opportunity to present itself to me goes against my grain, cuz I'd rather be in control and get what I want when I want; precisely why sometimes I need to slow down and appreciate what is being presented to me, right in front of my nose. The stigma of desiring death, decay, and the accompanying stench does not appeal to me, yet I always wanted to be a cop cuz I'm intrigued by blood and guts and the refuse of society.

Guess I've found my bird.  I want to be productive, useful, common, patient, and even interested in my current profession.  Plus, my grandfather strictly prohibited killing buzzards, because they do what no one else wants to do.  Not bad for job security.

Saturday, November 27, 2010 goes...

I'll let my posts do the dirty little job of introducing me, cuz what I tell you may not be what you want to know, and you'll likely think I've chosen those particular details because I want to impress you.  If I met you in person, you'd probably be right, but here, I will just be me.

So...for today's thought.  I saw the trailer for Eat Pray Love where Julia Roberts (aka Liz) says "I just want to go somewhere where I can marvel at something!"  Hmmm.  

First, too many wheres and somes in one sentence for me.  Guess I'm not much of a fan of vagueness.  The old English teacher rears her ugly head now and then (although I've grown quite fond of her ugliness) and makes me go uhhhhh, that's not phrased quite correctly.  Yeah, I do lots of that too, but it's poetic license when I do it, and annoying when others do it.  

Second, her outlook makes me sad.  I know I'm crazy lucky to live where I live, in the middle of the boonies, with stars and cows surrounding me, but all I have to do is go in my backyard and I marvel at nature.  I go inside my house and marvel at the memories of my girls growing up in each room.  I go to friends' homes and marvel at their humor, kindness, intelligence, compassion, and trustworthiness.  I go to my parents (who have been happily married for 57 years) and I marvel at their devotion.  I go to church and I marvel at God's infinite love.  I go driving and I marvel at the constantly changing scenery.  I go to learn and I marvel at others' wisdom.  You get the idea.  Marvel-ing is an attitude, not a place.  

Third, I get what Liz means.  I liked the book (quite insightful and enjoyable) and didn't like the movie (quite insipid and strayed too much from the book).  But I am addicted to travel, and one of the reasons for my addiction is that I marvel more often and more frequently when I am in unfamiliar surroundings.  New smells, tastes, sounds, customs, faces, hair coloring, clothes, buildings, experiences all make it a thrill to marvel.  But travel also reminds me to appreciate home, and to marvel at Life, wherever it's being lived.