I was meeting a friend for lunch, but he was running late. I stepped into one of my favorite consignment shops to kill time. A cloud of perfumed air smacked me in the face, and as I was trying to place the scent a strange sound reached my ears.
“Britt!” It was my name, called out in a voice ringing with excitement and familiarity.
My eyes turned toward the voice and recognized the dark hair, olive skin, and happy face of a woman I’d met while volunteering at the kids’ school.
“Melanie!” I called back. She hurried over to embrace me in a friendly hug, and I mentally made note of the milestone: this was my first neighborhood run-in since moving to Pittsburgh.
I’ve missed the run-in. It hasn’t been a part of my life for more than five years, not since I left my hometown of 1500 people. Not once did I meet a familiar face at the gas station or grocery store in the Florida suburb where we lived, and I had come to regard these chance encounters as something reserved for small town living or people who never left their birthplaces. When I hear others complain about being spotted out and about in sweats and dirty hair, a part of me is secretly jealous that they were connected enough to their communities to be recognized.
I’ve missed that community connection.
One of the reasons we abandoned full-time travel was because we longed for neighborly bonds. We hoped that trading the suburbs and the open road for congested city living would make it easier to engage with other people, but that’s proved to take a little longer than we’d anticipated. At times I’ve wondered if the only way we’d ever feel part of a community again would be if we headed back to Iowa.
And then I ran into Melanie.
Last weekend we planned a last-minute cookout with our neighbors and friends while watching our children play baseball; that too made me feel like we were starting to become part of this new home.
I know that roots take time to go deep. You can’t hurry the seasons and layers of dirt that create the stability and comfort of being known. But it’s good to see that the process is happening here.
Someone asked me recently what home meant to me now, after all the roaming and leaving and resettling. I told them there are two essential elements for home to me.
- where Jared and my kids are.
- where I can be myself.
We moved to this city because we believed it would give us plenty of opportunities to be together, but also because we hoped it would offer fertile ground for us to keep being ourselves.
One of the things I’ve learned recently is that being myself means being part of a bigger whole. As I’ve gotten more comfortable in my own skin, I’ve become more eager to explore who I am beyond that boundary – and even beyond the security of my little family.
It comes back to connection, I think.
First I had to connect with myself, and then I was able to connect with those closest to me. Now, while holding tight to my ties to Jared and the kids, I can reach out a little farther and add another ring of connection to my life.
Another ring of connection is another layer of happiness, and I’m grateful for that.
What are you connected to?