Ever visit a place for the first time and find you’ve already been there?
I don’t mean literally, like you remembered you’d been there once before. I mean something more visceral: you find your true self has been waiting for you there, waiting for you to discover that you belong there. In fact, you have belonged there all your life–if only you had known enough to look.
This happened to a friend of mine when she visited California. She got off the plane, took one look and said, whoa: this is where I’m supposed to be. It hit her that hard, and she’s never really come back.
This is what happens to me every time I attend the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival (it’s this weekend: Sept 7, 8, and 9). As soon as I get there, I feel so me, it hurts. It’s the land. It’s the sheep. It’s the spinning. I know I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. There’s only one problem: the Sheep and Wool Fest isn’t a place, it’s an event. It’s over in a flash. Then it’s back to work. Back to urban life. Back. Back. Back.
Don’t’ get me wrong: I enjoy my life. It’s just impossible to live it outside a major urban area. My husband and I could give up a lot to live in a rural small town. We could say good bye to shopping malls and the Art Institute. We could do without 4G and Lake Michigan water. We could happily trade the Cubs for a lawn tractor. What we can’t give up is our jobs. Our jobs keep us tied to the city. By living one dream, you say good bye to another. Sometimes, you don’t even realize you’ve made a trade.
Nobody told us when we were young that pursuing our careers would tether us to city life. Frankly, this was the last thing on our minds anyway. The young think everything is possible. It would never have occurred to me that my choice of profession meant I couldn’t live in the country. If I wanted to live in a small town, why, I’d just move there. Simple as that. But it’s never that simple.
For decades the movement has been out of small towns into the cities. Who would have thought people would want to go back? Whenever my husband and I drive in the country, we are sure to pass by the remnants of old towns. My mother-in-law can pick out the crossroads of Wisconsin towns she once knew as a girl, now marked with just a few collapsed houses and a vine-wrapped chimney or two. It always makes me sad. Who lived there? What dream fell apart? I’d love to live out in the country, but where are the jobs? Even in thriving small towns, it’s hard to find a doctor or a clinic. What if you need a good lawyer? What if you need a gasket to stop your faucet from leaking?
With small town life out of reach, we thought of moving farther out. We scoured the map of Chicagoland: if you want to get out of town, I mean really out of town, you’re looking at an hour commute–at least! And we’re not big fans of long commutes. What a waste of time, resources, and spirit. So, we’re stuck, at least for now. I’m grateful to the city for the life it gives us; but, in a few days, I’ll be walking through the dusty barns, searching for the perfect fleece, feeling very much myself and as close to the horizon as I can get.