In Place

If our lives we’re plays, they would share a lot in common: a cast of interesting characters, dialogue both riveting and banal, and three acts. One thing that would vary widely, though, is the number of places where the play takes place.

Some have lived in different countries, while others remain in the town where they were born. I fall somewhere in-between.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live where I grew up.

I was born in a small town in Michigan and lived there until I left for college. We spent a year in Chicago after graduation, then left the Midwest in pursuit of warmth and new adventures.

There’s nothing I would change about our path and the friends, careers, and subplots that came of it. There’s something about starting fresh in a place where no one knows you that’s uniquely rewarding.

Now and then, though, I hear from people who teach in the very school they once attended or live down the street from the house where they grew up. They return to the family cabin each year for vacation and send their kids to the same summer camp. Get togethers with extended family are packed affairs with so many living nearby.

And it sounds sort of wonderful.

I lived on Church Street, which appropriately had a church on the corner. We commandeered the next door neighbor’s expansive backyard and turned it into a baseball field. The forest behind our house was always available for exploration. In my first job as a paper boy, I walked the neighborhood on silent winter mornings, porches covered in snow. Many other firsts followed, from date to car accident.

I was ready to leave when the time came and eager to live in a city. What's hard to see in those moments, though, is the exponential value that comes from sustained living in one location. It’s like compound interest. You can’t compare one place to another without taking into account the memories and relationships they hold, and how they become even more valuable as time passes and new stories and experiences supplant the old.

I’m slowly realizing that in Austin. There's a reason it's called putting down roots. Each additional year in a place adds another ring to the tree. And with each ring, the tree become more sturdy and supportive.