“They say your style of life’s a drag
And that you must go other places
But just don’t you feel too bad
When you get fooled by smiling faces”
Every time I go back to New York, I am hit with a profound and echoing sense of longing. I don’t know if it’s my need for variety and visual stimulation, for movement and excitement, but breathing in the very air around me (not breathing it in too closely, in some cases!) fills a need in me that I can barely express. And the sounds! And the accents! And the people! As I say very often, “I love my city!” And when I go back “home” to Michigan, I always feel like I’m leaving a part of me behind.
When I was in college, I came close to going “home” several times. I graduated six months early in large part because I just had to be back to New York. When I moved back to Michigan at the end of 1999, it began as a life-or-death situation, but ended up being a better decision than I knew I was making at the time. I often describe it by saying, “life is easier in Michigan.” If I’m feeling particularly sorry for myself, I will tell people that I tried to live in NYC and that the city “chewed me up and spit me out”, which is sometimes how I feel about it, even now.
I tried to come home just over a year ago. God said “not yet”, and then He said “no”. And every time I’m back, I return (home?!) to my boring midwestern life and wonder if I’ll ever get “home” to NY again.
Last weekend , a friend asked me why I wanted to be back in NYC so badly. I was hard-pressed to find the words to express what I was feeling . . . I could only say that I didn’t want to have to say that I am “from” Michigan . . . that I didn’t want to lose my “New York-ness”. Here in the Northern Bible Belt, where it doesn’t matter if my clothes are in style, it’s just so easy to become apathetic . . . and mostly, I fear losing my identity; I fear no longer being a “real” New Yorker.
I think it’s a self-esteem thing, too. Can I feel good about myself if I’m constantly reminded that I couldn’t handle living in NY? Maybe it doesn’t matter to anybody else, but to me it does. I feel like I’ve lost a part of my identity, and I don’t have the confidence that I’ll ever get that back. I certainly don’t want to go back to Staten Island; I had that choice at the end of 1999, and saw Grand Rapids as the lesser of two evils. But do I need to learn to “settle” for Grand Rapids, to accept that this is my life now? I don’t know. I can accept that this is where I am *now*; I’m just not sure that I can see it as “forever”. I literally dread the time when I will have to say that I have lived in Michigan longer than I have lived in NY. I’m more than a dozen years away from that point, but as the song goes, “I’m only afraid that my dreams will betray me, and I’ll never get home again.”
What is not an option, to the extent that I can help it, would be for me to move elsewhere. When I first came to Grand Rapids, I immediately saw that the problem was that pieces of my heart were in two places. I can barely fathom the idea of tearing my heart into even smaller pieces, and leaving pieces of myself in yet another place. The first spring break I spent back in NY, I dreamed that Grand Rapids was located where New Jersey was. Ever since then, I have wished that I could take the map and fold it up like the back cover of Mad Magazine, and bring those pieces of my heart close enough to each other that it wouldn’t hurt so much. So although I cannot say what God might do, it is hard for me to think beyond these two options.
I suppose that, for now, I just have to be where I am, and try not to tie my self-esteem up with the choice of living in this “uncool” place living an unexciting life. Unexciting as it may be, it’s enough to exhaust me, and it’s where I am right now. and if this world is truly not my home, then perhaps this sense of homesickness will be my companion until the day I reach that final home. I’m told that in that place, my angst will cease. It’s hard to imagine, but intriguing nonetheless.