I am not a city mouse. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, I can walk the streets and go about my business with the rest, but it is not in my nature to be an urban dweller. Pavement and plastic do not lift my spirits and fill my soul with hope for the future our own and other species on this planet.
Transitioning from nearly a decade of life in rural communities in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska to urban Lowell was a challenge for me.
I grew up in suburban, eastern Massachusetts, so I have jay walked. Yet, years of living in small towns have made me softer around the edges of my already sensitive being.
When I first moved back to Lowell, I was afraid to cross the street (it’s ok to laugh. It is kind of funny to think back on that now). I did not venture out at night at all. I still remember walking down to my car to go run errands and finding a gaping hole where the window for the back, left passenger seat used to be.
I just stood there. In shock. A man walked by and paused. “My window is gone,” I said to him. I cannot recall his response, but I want to think there was some empathy in it. I got into my front seat. Broken glass crunched beneath my feet. I called my sweetie on the phone, told him someone had broken into my car, and started to cry.
Those first few, lonely months in Lowell, the feeling of trust between me and my community was absent.
Those first few months, I did not yet have a community in Lowell.
I was surrounded by strangers. I avoided people around me, crossing the street if there was a strange man walking toward me on the sidewalk. I did not make eye contact with people.
I was emotionally uncomfortable most of the time.
In small town, Southeast Alaska, it is common practice to wave at passersby and uncommon practice to avoid them. People know you are a stranger if you do not return their wave, but they are still friendly. I found myself reaching out to people I did not know. No matter where I was, in the seemingly strangest of places, I would get to know a person I had never seen and likely would never see again.
Not in Lowell. In Lowell, I was alone.
In Lowell, I went out of my way not to wave at people.
I know from experience that trying to be a human island, especially during times of transition, is not sustainable practice. At least, for me it isn’t.
Who was this unfriendly, untrusting version of myself? I was studying sustainability and how to practice and create sustainability in all aspects of my life, yet I was actively creating a distance between my self and the community.
At some point in the past nearly two years, something shifted inside of me. I cannot pinpoint the moment the shift began, perhaps because it was ever so gradual.
I can say with certainty that finding the music and arts community and feeling welcomed and supported has made a big difference in my Lowell life.
I would not say that I feel like I belong in Lowell or am a true member of the greater Lowell community, but I do sense that I was meant to be here at this time in my life.
All roads lead somewhere, and my own road has led me to Lowell.
As I continue to work on the sustainability of my own self, I am also trying to stretch this work to include the affect I have on the world around me.
So, some time ago I made a vow to smile at people I passed on the street. I did not always succeed. Sometimes, shyness or distrust would overcome me at the last instant.
Over dinner a couple of weeks ago, a friend told me that she had been doing the same thing. She called it “hi therapy.”
Since then, I have been trying to lengthen that personal stretch. Without pulling too many muscles, I have been easing deeper into the “hi therapy” mentality. At the last moment, as I feel myself turning away from people who intimidate me for whatever contrived or culturally learned reason, I turn right toward them, smile, and try to make verbal contact as well.
And it has been working! People nearly always return the smile and the verbal gesture. I can feel my self begin to float as I continue on my way.
To Lowell, I want to say, I still am not sure I belong here, but I am trying to see you and be seen.
Thank you, for being you and for allowing me to be me.