Monday, June 18, 2007

Run Away

The woman looked at me incredulously. I had obviously hit a nerve. She shook her head and vehemently offered me her opinion. “I didn’t think you’d be one to run away. I thought you were smarter than that. Have you even thought about what you’ll be losing?”

We were leaving the city. We were moving to the suburbs. Our reasons were common and familiar. We wanted a lower crime rate, better schools and a bigger, newer house. This, despite the fact that during our entire time in the city we had never been the victim of any crime. We found the school our daughter attended to be extraordinary. And our house wasn’t inadequate in any way. Yet, the suburbs were calling.

My husband and I have moved 11 times in our adult lives. We’ve lived in the middle of the city and we’ve lived in the quietest of rural areas. We’ve lived in the suburbs and in small towns. We’ve lived on the beach and we’ve lived surrounded by corn fields in the middle of the country. We’ve lived near the Amish and the Klu Klux Klan. We’ve rented apartments and owned many houses. Between the two of us we’ve literally lived in every corner of the United States.

When we announced to our city friends that we were moving to the suburbs, most held the same feelings as the woman who accused us of running away from the city. It was true that I easily believed the city school system to be large and ineffective, full of low income students with behavior problems whose racial and cultural differences caused discord and dissension in the classroom. My city friends shocked me with their deeply held opposing views. They believed the large school system was full of unlimited opportunity and a multitude of learning possibilities. They felt that the low income kids had their values straight and truly appreciated their free lunch and their discount store shoes. Daily exposure to a racially and culturally diverse student population only mirrored the real world, they believed, and served to help children become tolerant, accepting and enthusiastic about those who were different than themselves. I had assumed that every couple with young children wanted to move to the suburbs. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My city friends loved all that the city and the urban schools had to offer their children. They wouldn’t have left in a million years.

We found many stereotypical fears, similar to my own, in every place we lived. Our rural friends assumed the city was an unsafe and ungodly place full of rappers and gays and Democrats. Neither did they have any desire to be stuck in a suburban traffic jam of BMW’s full of spoiled teenagers who spent more time with their iPods than they did their own family. Suburbanites associated urban diversity with crime and poverty. They criticized the lack of opportunity in rural areas and took it for granted that a rural life was limited and slow. The city people felt the rural areas were just too closed minded, Republican and devoid of culture and opportunity. They assumed the suburbs were too white and were full of malls of conformity.

It’s true you won’t have to look very far to find instances where these fears and assumptions are easy to support. You don’t have to look very hard to find an inner city shooting. It won’t take you long to find a conservative Republican in farm country. Finding a teenager with their own BMW in the suburbs will take you less than a minute. However, you also don’t have to look very hard to find a shooting outside the city in a suburban or rural school. It won’t take you long to find urban and suburban drug problems in a trailer housed meth lab in an otherwise rural utopia. And finding a spoiled city teenager who embraces typical suburban conformity won't take long either.

I have held pre-conceived assumptions about every place I have ever moved to. Yet when I look back at each place I have lived, my experiences and memories are never centered on the fears and suppositions I had in the beginning. Every place I have lived was full of unexpected surprises that didn’t fit any demographic or statistic or alarming trend at all. It’s true that you could have labeled certain people as black or closed minded or self centered. Certain areas could have been called run down or ritzy or conservative. But those limiting, descriptive labels in no way began to describe who each person fully was. The news blurbs of shock and negativity in no way began to tell what the community was about at its core. The stories and assumptions and fears of what living in a certain area would be like never did directly mirror what my experience turned out to be.

When my husband and I moved from the city to the suburbs it was easy to quantify and analyze the reasons we were moving. What we failed to consider was what a small part those presumably known factors would play in our life. We had no idea that it would be the unexpected and the unknown that would change who we were forever. It’s easy to run away and hide from what you think you know. It’s a whole lot harder to put your assumptions aside, open your mind and your heart and embrace the unexpected surprises life has to offer.

Check This Out!
I strongly recommend Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat Pray Love. Travel to Italy to find the joy and pleasure life should have. Travel to India to experience a calm, centered existence we all wish we had. Travel to Indonesia to find the balance to make it all work together. Read this book now before the Julia Roberts movie hits your theater.

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