Tuesday, July 10, 2012

City Life

(Over the next few weeks, I'm taking an online writing class.  I'm looking forward to all that I will learn!  I will post some of the writing here.  I do plan to get back to writing more about running and water, maybe even as a part of this class.  Thanks for taking the time to read!)

My friends will tell you that I’m passionate about city life.  On some days, I’m smitten.  I felt that way, especially in the beginning, when everything was new.  I arrived in a small city called Lancaster a couple of years after graduating from college.  It’s a mysterious place, smack in the middle of hearty Amish country and acres upon acres of farmland, but with a diverse population including whites of German ancestry, African Americans, Latinos, and more recently, refugees from Southeast Asia.  And then there’s my husband and I, who twelve years ago were newcomers to Lancaster County and its unique culture, a culture that is evolving as more “foreigners” like us have reason to come and make lives for ourselves here.

In the beginning, walking to market, testing different running routes, finding favorite restaurants, and meeting new friends quickly became treasured activities.  During any one of these pastimes, I could be with people from many different backgrounds.  I loved the discovery and the learning.  It was all so very new and fun and interesting to me.

When my husband and I purchased a house, I started to see Lancaster as our home.  On our block were several neighbors who had lived on our street for years and years and were eager to tell us about their city life experiences.  We’d often meet one of these neighbors, an elderly gentleman named Charlie, on the sidewalk as he was preparing to make his weekly trip to market.  We’d exchange pleasantries, talk about the glorious farm and Pennsylvania Dutch goodies that Charlie was about to purchase, and discuss the latest neighborhood news, which often involved someone parking in someone else’s space or a complaint about Peggy storing her scooter in their shared alleyway.  A few years later, when Charlie was no longer able to make the trip to market and I started to make frequent stops there, complete with stroller and kids, I’d get a list from Charlie: fresh tomatoes, a dill pickle, two half pints of chicken pot pie, four beef hot dogs, and three small bags of Utz potato chips.  When I’d return to his house with his food and his money, he’d always be sure to hand back some change for the kids’ piggy banks.  It was the same song and dance every time.  Initially, I’d refuse the money, but he’s always been more stubborn than I, and eventually I’d receive his gift and thank him.  

This is city life at its finest: opportunity for relationships with others not like me, shared experiences (good and bad) leading to solidarity, helping one another.

I often say that the city can bring out the best and the worst in people.  After a while, the things that once made city life so fresh and invigorating started to wear on me.  Excitement about being with people of other backgrounds lessened as I realized that it is easier to be around people just like me.  The running routes, restaurants, and routines became old and tired.  And then there are the other small annoyances adding up over time: people hitting our cars and neglecting to leave insurance information, missing porch plants, escaped pets and stray cats in our backyard, a stone through our living room window, limited living space.  Friends are moving on to their bigger homes with spacious backyards.  I feel cramped, stationary, and angry at that stranger who just took the parking space right in front of our house!

Even relationship with Charlie is strained.  Bedridden now, he calls at night wanting me to adjust the temperature control on his heater.  He calls to complain about his nurses and our neighbors.  He calls asking me to visit.  When I don’t visit as often, he calls to check whether my phone number has changed.

When I stopped getting phone calls from Charlie, I went down to his house to check on him.  He didn’t recognize me that night.  He was confused and cold to the touch.  The next morning, surrounded by close friends that he has collected over the years, it was clear that the end was near.  Or so we thought.  Charlie is as stubborn as ever, even in death.  Waiting with Charlie binds us together.  Despite my weary and sometimes bitter description of city life these days, times such as these, the precious moments and relationships, keep me holding on.  Gratitude for both the sacred and mundane city life experiences results in hope.  This hope causes the frustration to dissipate, at least temporarily, and allows me to tolerate the closeness.

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