I love living in a large city. This is something that, for the majority of my life, I thought I would never say. I grew up in precisely the opposite environment: in fairly remote rural Ohio, surrounded by trees, ponds and fields. As a shy, withdrawn tomboy, I navigated woods, forded creeks and climbed to the garage roof to stare at the stars in the open sky. I was terrified of cities and other people, and my primary goal in adulthood was to live in a cottage hidden from civilization, like some modern cross between Miss Havisham and Henry David Thoreau.
As I went through my rather belated process of growing up, I took baby steps away from the country. I went to college in a small town. There were emergency vehicle sirens and nighttime lights that obscured the stars. I went to the local park when I needed a break. Then I moved to Columbus, Ohio, which is hardly a bustling metropolis, but was my first “city,” and over the seven years I lived there, I migrated from the outskirts to the city center. I went to the local parks when I needed a break.
What I had slowly discovered in Columbus is that the key to my avoidance of cities had been the word I used earlier: terrified. It was based in fear, not disinclination. In fact, after I learned to be in them, I found that I loved being in cities. I liked the energy and movement and opportunity. I liked the community and convenience. It made life easier, inspired creativity and made new lessons and adventures possible.
Over a year ago, I moved to Chicago. It’s the perfect combination of busy, active city and strong, rusty Midwestern heart, and that suits me perfectly. But it is more difficult to find quiet spots when you need space. But, you learn to find them, and you tend to learn more about yourself when it’s more difficult to find what sustains you. You learn more about your needs and your values. You learn more about how to make yourself happy rather than waiting for happiness to simply occur.
I learned that the magnificent Art Institute of Chicago was a good place of respite. I learned that there are little parks and hidden gems of quiet all over the city. I learned that few things open up peace like spending even a few minutes at the edge of endless Lake Michigan. I also learned that if you know yourself well enough, you can manage to find quiet wherever you are.
Someday, I’ll have one home in the heart of the city and another far in the country, and I can keep myself balanced between them. In the meantime, I recognize that it’s valuable to have learned how to keep myself balanced without an easy external structure to do so—the sort of lesson you only get a hold of after you’ve got lost a few times.