In my hometown, where I’ve lived in the same house on the same street for 22 years, I feel a deep sense of community. I cherish such strong friendships where people check in on me, challenge me to be a better person, yet accept and love me for me. No matter where I go, I run into someone I know, and the conversations are simple, genuine, Southern catch-ups. Don’t be fooled. It took years for me to feel this way about my hometown. In fact, in high school, I considered boarding school, even moving to California to live with a family friend and attend her school, and at some points even rebelled against going anywhere I might run into someone. I had this creeping sense that everyone was judging me, that I could never be enough, that this place did not accept me, and that I would never feel known and loved for who I knew I was at my core. I would always be six-year-old me, or a slave to my family’s reputation—albeit they have a great reputation, but it’s still not unique to me and is quite resistant to change.
Throughout high school, I made friends from diverse backgrounds and ran from the status circles—those circles didn’t particularly want me, anyway, and that was perfectly okay. I let myself join every extracurricular to stay as busy as possible. I was determined to be different.
I wanted out of my hometown. I chose a college where I did not know anyone. I told my parents they were crazy to think I’d ever come back. This town had no escape routes; why in the world would I put myself through that?
Oh how wrong I was.
Okay, wait. I’ll give myself a little credit. Middle and high school were hard. People WERE mean. People were dramatic and gossip-y and made such a big deal out of nothing. Everyone was in everyone else’s business which meant every family was in every other family’s business too.
But then we grow up. We change. We become who we were always meant to be, once we have the freedom to get out and be independent.
And now, as all the hometown seniors in college come home for our last break, it is palpably different.
Instead of feeling like the whole town is in my business, I feel that the town genuinely cares to know how I am doing. Instead of walking on egg shells when I run into certain people I used to know, I’m filled with excitement to ask them about their lives. Instead of my few, strong, individual friends in Winston, I feel part of a thriving group of friends who genuinely care about everyone’s wellbeing.
So how did this happen? Just from growing up?
No, this happened because everyone with whom I have reconnected all chose to make college a completely fresh transition. They did not maintain their same friends, their same lifestyle, in their same environment. With big public schools, this is possible. But it’s also possible to branch out and live differently. And so many of my close hometown friends did just that. As did the rest of my close friends when they chose colleges where they knew no one, followed passions wherever they took them, and consciously developed themselves spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically and socially. We were all able to see that there is more than our hometown. And so, when we come home, we lose this immature sense that we must know each other’s every move. We simply enjoy the community and the fresh perspectives. And we talk about other places, people and opportunities than the ones down the street.
Over our last college break, we connect over this shared maturity. We hold intelligent, life-giving, genuine, deep conversations about what really matters. We run into people at the grocery store, moving our cart aside to engage in spontaneous conversation for however long it may last. We ask each other the hard questions.
And as the break ends, we ask the hardest question of all: Will you ever find your way back to this place again?
I never thought I’d care about the answer to that, let alone ask it. But now I find myself with dreams of living here later in life with these sorts of friends by my side.
Are you living in a bubble? Or are you breaking outside that bubble so that you can return to it with a deep, fresh perspective on how it is one small bubble of many bubbles of this giant world? In your next move, whether it be a new semester of college, a new job, a career change, retirement, or another large life transition, I challenge you to pop your bubble, respectfully and with intention, to further discover who you are, who you’re meant to be, and the capacity your former bubble has for deep, meaningful community.