Adaptable Until

There are few things that make me feel more grateful than riding in a cab in Manhattan.

During these trips, particularly when I manage my time well enough not to be running late and therefore focusing on the surroundings rather than the traffic, I always seem to be able to take a step back, set aside the worries of the moment and really feel the city. Even enclosed in the cocoon of the cab, I feel bizarrely embedded in the goings on outside and New York’s energy seeps into me. It feels me with a deep sense of calm.

I know this is atypical. For whatever reason, I’ve always needed a certain amount of stimulation to think clearly and the ever-present but clearly distant din of horns, sirens, and construction lulls me into a trance-like state. I take a moment, breath, observe and reflect.

Seeing old haunts and walks trigger precious memories, good and bad. I watch the people walking on the street and wonder if they have been lucky enough to live in this place. I examine their presence and demeanor for clues about whether they know the shops and cafes that sprinkled between the iconic landmarks as well as I do. I marvel at the many types of New Yorkers and wonder how they live — there are just so many ways of being in this place. I also watch tourists with a certain fascination. Many of them dream of visiting all their lives, yet their time here will be short-lived and they’ll tell tales of their experiences for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, I just keep on living the stuff of their dreams and legends. I don’t care if I’m one of 8+ million others who have the honor of calling New York home. I feel lucky to be here and to have carved out a niche that is especially my own.

A friend of mine often says I live in New York better than anyone else she knows. The things about this place that make others crazy and ultimately drive them away bother me disproportionately little. The things about the city that make it great I like disproportionately much and keep me tethered to it.

Before living in New York, I always considered myself highly adaptable. As a child, I moved back and forth between Portland and Chicago and found ways to love my time in each location. I still have a soft spot for North Carolina, where I lived while in college. I always see the appeal of places I’ve traveled both domestically and internationally, even relish in the pace and lifestyle of each. I even seriously considered living many of those locations long term.

That all changed after I lived in New York the first time. After 4 years in the city, I moved to Philadelphia for a career change. It was a great move for job satisfaction but put a severe damper on my life satisfaction. Blaming Philly itself, I spent a stint in San Francisco with the expectation that it would be the place I would eventually settle, since I had a life-long desire to live there. But it just…wasn’t right. It was shortly after that I moved back to New York. I just wanted to go home.

I think this is what people mean when they say “home is where the heart is.” Sure, there are people here I love but I’m blessed to have also left behind many people I love equally and like to visit as often as possible. But, when I do, I just don’t fit. I can’t say whether I fit in New York but I know it fits me. And it’s the only place I feel like myself. And it’s my home.

I can’t say whether my experience is typical of young people as they navigate adulthood, learn about themselves and define what matters most. The truth is, I have no idea. So many of my friends and family seem especially attached to the place they lived as children. There is a pride of place and a comfort in going home. I can’t relate. To me, it just seems improbable that a person can derive the most joy and comfort from the place they just happened to be born. At the same time, I also know many who are unhappy living in their current hometowns and want to leave but don’t seem to have a path to do so. Still others seem to want to go as far away from home as possible and don’t much seem to care where they end up. Finally, I know a lot of “converts” like myself who find a place and proselytize its virtues as if it’s the only proper way to live.

What drives people’s decisions around defining “home” and why do they choose to settle in a location, whether it’s their home or not? In future entries, I’ll try to answer these questions, one personal story at a time.

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