In the past 9 years, I’ve lived in three very different cities: Syracuse, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. None of those cities are anything like the place I grew up or the town where I went to college. In my moves, I’ve come to expect a moment of shock that usually arrives somewhere between a year to two years of living in the same place. I call it the “pen effect.”
This is what happens: I am writing an important date in calendar or filling out our rent check or hastily scribbling grocery list, when I look down at the pen. This pen is one that has been sitting in our desk drawer and yet it’s new to me. That means someone left it here or I accidentally took it from the bank or it was in a free goody bag from the hospital. And I look down at the pen where in big letters are written an address, which includes the word: “CALIFORNIA” or, perhaps in the past: “New York” or “Pennsylvania,” words that once only belonged to the map of the US I was forced to color in 5th grade.
Who lives in a place like that? How in the world did I end up in California? Is that actually my face on that California driver’s license? (Answer: No, because I’ve been too lazy to ever change my Pennsylvania license, which is good till 2012. But that’s not the point.)
I’ve become more and more convinced that moving is not a healthy thing. It’s not something we were designed to do. I know our culture loves it. I know everyone says it’s important to leave your home and experience other cultures and see new places. Move for college, move for grad school. Then move as a young adult to an exciting city and experience life!
I’ll be the first to confess that I would be a completely different woman had I not been a girl who moved. I would never have met my Yankee husband. Does that mean I think it’s healthy? Nope. We come from ancestors who only lived in one place for their entire lives. They knew a healthy amount of people who it was actually possible to keep relationships going with (more than 500 Facebook friends anyone? FB cannot be good for our ability to be friends with people…I’m just saying). They lived in one place long enough to know their community (and, I’m sure, all the nasty and beautiful things about lifelong community). And if they moved, it was most likely still within a 25-mile radius.
We move thousands of miles in all directions. My moves have only been possible because of technology. And I don’t think my brain or soul really recovers every time I move. We loved (adored!) our community in Philadelphia and I did my share of crying before we left, but I wasn’t afraid. I like meeting new people. In fact, I thrive in it. And we have begun to adore our community in San Francisco. But that doesn’t mean I’m healed from the loss of Philadelphia (or the loss of Syracuse or Abilene or Amarillo) in my life. We need people and no matter what Facebook or phone or Skype brings to my relationships in those places, they can never be the same until they are face to face again. We can’t fake living somewhere. We cannot live in more than one place.
The Benedictines make a vow to stability when they join the order. For the most part, a Benedictine monk stays in the same monastery with the same monks his entire life. It was (and is) a vow unique to the Benedictines, one that St. Benedict, who valued physical and spiritual health, made clear in his teachings was vital to the thriving spiritual lives of the monks he led. And, after a year and a half of challenging myself with Benedict’s words, I believe him. Stability is the value I most long for in my physical and spiritual life. Yet, it’s the reality that seems to be farthest from my grasp.
What does it mean to practice stability? Is it possible to have healthy relationships and move from place to place? Has technology doomed us to shallow friendships and a false sense of place? Just wondering…