On Community

As a married, working adult, I still live in the same town where I grew up. I’ve even landed in the house that my own mother grew up in herself. Though life has taken me to college in Delaware for three years, on a month-long trip to India, and all over this country by car and plane, my home base has never strayed far from Baltimore.

As a young twenty something, the question of what this lack of relocation means has come up again and again. Am I missing out by staying in a place that I already know fairly well? Am I allowing fear of the unknown to hold me back from better options? Am I failing to embark on a necessary and vital life experience by not establishing myself elsewhere, at least temporarily? For a long time I struggled with these questions, especially as I scrolled through facebook and saw friends and acquaintances pick up their lives for adventures in new cities, even new countries. As sense of despair would overcome me as I compared myself to others, failing to recognize that what I saw was a carefully framed and unrealistic portrait of a mere fraction of their lives.

But when I looked at my own sisters, whose stories and decisions I know much more intimately than the vast majority of my facebook friends’, things came into much clearer perspective. My older sister is a civil engineer and her husband works for the Department of Defense (but we’re not allowed to know what he really does there). His job largely dictates why they chose to settle down in a congested suburb of DC not particularly close to either of their families’ homes. And my younger sister, a grad student in Pittsburgh, traveled to the Steel City because of the psychology program they offer, the research to which said program will allow her to contribute, the faculty at that particular school, the degree she will receive in six years’ time. She couldn’t work on her doctorate in psychology just anywhere and Pittsburgh ended up being the best fit for her on multiple levels.

As a social worker, I could really pick up and move anywhere while still continuing to pursue the career I currently have. My husband is similarly employed in a human services job that doesn’t tie him to Baltimore, Maryland, or even the East Coast. Our skills are transferable and in need wherever we could possibly decide to go (although admittedly his comedy career might blossom more in a metropolis than on the rural plains). I actually have more freedom than either of my sisters in this regard. But somehow I’m the one closest to home. Not just close, still in the same zip code.

After much thought, I’ve realized that what I love about Baltimore, the reason I’m still here, is the sense of community I have in this place. I don’t mean the friendly culture of Baltimore (we’ve got a long way to go if we want to earn the City of Brotherly Love title) or the way in which neighborhoods are closely knit. Sadly, I only know a handful of my neighbors by name, and some of those names I only know because my mother knew them from years ago when my grandmother was still living in our house. Others just have nicknames of which they are unaware, bestowed by myself and my husband. So no, it’s not that traditional understanding of community that keeps me here. I certainly would like to foster more of these notions of local community in my life; creating a neighborhood vegetable garden, finding other couples whose dogs could play with our own, even learning more of my neighbors’ names.

The real type of community I have takes a slightly larger scope, encompassing my family and my husband’s, our friends from this area old and new, near and a little bit farther away. My relationships with these people are the most important things in my life. And while some of these people have moved an hour away, I’m still located so conveniently that I can visit my DC friends one weekend, catch up with my friend living over the Pennsylvania line the next, grab coffee with Baltimoreans during the week, and stop by my parents’ house whenever I so please. A life peopled with long-time friends and family makes the most sense to me and keeps me rooted in a town I’ve always loved. Having a name for this idea, labeling “community” as the motivating factor in my current location, placates those nagging worries that I’m doing the wrong thing by illuminating truths about what I know to be right for myself.

I contrast the sense of community that keeps me here with the career path choices that force many people to move away from their original home. I want to have a worthwhile career, but I will never allow doing so to absolutely dictate my life choices. Where you live defines so many aspects of your life; I consider my job to be only a fraction of the meaningful, full life I create for myself surrounded by family, friends, a local state park, the unique small-town Baltimore culture, and more of the things I love in this area. For me, the idea of following a job across the country sounds lonely, frightening, and empty; no salary would be worth the cost of relocating away from my network of friends. I’d rather be surrounded by people I know and love who can support me through a tough day at work than pursue an enviable career amid a tiny social circle. And who wants to have to battle holiday traffic just to have Thanksgiving dinner with their family? There is no reason why someone like me should shrug off the community of loved ones I have created in order to build a new one rooted elsewhere.

My life choices are mine alone, and I guess my husband’s as well. We have remained in Baltimore because it makes sense given the type of people we are. Community matters much more to us than climbing the career ladder. If we need to move to New York City to advance Mike’s comedy career, that is a hurdle we will have to cross in time. But New York is a place we both fervently love, where other friends of ours are located, where a sense of community is already rooted even if we visit for a weekend. For now, Baltimore is a place I am happy to be in. When I run into old high school classmates home for the holidays, I will always worry about being judged for staying right where I started. But I’ve finally overcome the arbitrary belief that moving signifies anything more than what it is. My life in Baltimore may not seem wildly adventurous from the outside, but I deeply love it here. That’s the most important reason to settle anywhere. While it may not have been fully conscious, my decision to stay here was fueled by that combination of commonsense, self-understanding, and love of the particular people this place has to offer.

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