The Pen Effect

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…

  • Caq

    Okay this is random but California probably has laws on how long you are allowed to keep an out of state license. I only say this bc my Syracuse (wahoo!) license was stolen along with my wallet when I moved back here and since I’d been here more than thirty days I had to get new Id. I just got my state id because I do not have a car but here is your warning: you might have to take a road test. who could fail mama monk? I’m typing on my phone hence the typos. Xoxocaq ps i still miss Syracuse. I thought I was the only one.

    • http://mommymonk.wordpress.com Micha Boyett Hohorst

      CAQ, you’re right! Chris has his CA license and our car is registered in this state. Honestly, I’m lazy and I haven’t wanted to go wait in that line with a 2 year old. But I do not want to take a road test! Perhaps I’ll heed your warning, if I’m a smart girl. Or maybe I’ll just be lucky and never get pulled over. Doubtful.

  • http://lexrob.com Lex

    Micha, I’m really moved by this post, and I agree with you wholeheartedly when you say that moving is neither healthy nor what we’re designed to do. And nobody talks enough about how painful it is, either.

    It would be interesting to look at it theologically from the lens of the people of Israel, for whom “relocation” was a pretty central theme. I’m thinking of exodus and exile and God’s promise being that of a home. Preachers love to mock their desire to return to Egypt, but I think we’ve all felt that…it’s painful even to leave bad places and systems of oppression/abuse.

    Anyway, great thoughts, and thank you for sharing.

    • http://mommymonk.wordpress.com Micha Boyett Hohorst

      Lex, I always feel so smart when you decide to comment about something on the blog. I’m glad you agree (and understand). I’m sure you’ve been going through the same sorts of emotions the past year. It’s so interesting you bring up the Israelites and relocation because I feel like we as Christians have shaped an entire theology around God “moving” us (in every sense of the word), so much so that it seems the really committed Christians have to leave where they’re “comfortable” for a place where they’re not…in order to be in God’s will. What we rarely talk about is God’s calling to be counter cultural in the sense of staying where you come from, committing to those people, and not being afraid of growing deep roots. After all, the Israelites only traveled for what, 2 generations(?) then stayed the same land for centuries. What does God love more…moving us or rooting us? (I feel like that should be a sermon title or something.)

  • Kim

    Chris is on of the few PA-grown men I have known to relocate out of PA… you may be back. There is some sort of boomerang thing around here for SURE! :)

    I love thinking about this, because just this week I seem to be experiencing the longevity of relationships. This can be both wonderful and painful! But you are right… it is real, and deep and healthy, but I don’t always like how it feels. I do admit to a certain itch to start something new, look at houses, want to start fresh and spread my wings. And my numbers aren’t even that impressive, 14.5 years of marriage, 13.5 of SAHMotherhood, 9 in this house… stability in relationship reminds me of the Peterson book “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”. I don’t think I knew what that implied as a 22 y/o first time reader. My perspective is perhaps a bit more sober (ah-hem) 18 years later; but the more stable, the more opportunity for depth, and growth and friction …and friction … and growth.

    I feel it this week. The rub of being the one who knows my man the best in some of the hardest times of life. Of friends who know me so well they say things that cut to the quick (mostly to help me). The weight of caring for people who are broken and needy over years and seasons of life. It is THICK.

    But take heart! I made 7 moves between 18 and 29. And none since. So sometimes moving can be a season. And you have a growing tribe to be with you wherever you are… the hardest moves were the ones I made alone.
    :)
    Thanks, as always, Micha, for a brain that is lovely and eloquent in every season, even post-partum!

    • http://mommymonk.wordpress.com Micha Boyett Hohorst

      Kim, I’d never thought about PA men staying put. It’s so true! Love what you said about the thickness of caring for people over so many years and seasons of iife. And I’m adding “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” to my book list. I always love hearing from you…

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