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au revoir, chicago

I've lived in Chicago for the greater part of a decade, and what a journey it has been. I still get a flicker of feeling cool anytime I swipe my train pass because the little kid in me sees myself as Mary Tyler Moore—a small town gal taking on the big city. When I chose to attend college here, it was because I was thirsty for something different. Where I grew up isn't terribly diverse, and I was curious about how other people live. I’m also someone deeply interested in the nature of truth—and I thought I owed it to Truth to get as many angles of it as possible. Having grown up in a traditionally religious and politically conservative family, it seemed like Chicago was a place to immerse myself if I wanted my beliefs challenged and shaped in ways that broke me open to an authentic process of becoming.

And it did. I will forever be grateful for that. I’ve seen and done more things in this city than I would have ever imagined. I’m not referring to checking out the best restaurants and visiting some of the greatest architectural sites, though there’s been plenty of that. I’m referring to experiences when I’ve made eye contact with people who have suffered differently from the ways that I have, and by the grace of God, that eye contact led to meaningful conversations when people trusted me with their stories—and I learned that the different ways in which we suffer indeed matters. I forever want to honor that and learn how to serve the variety of needs experienced across this vast diverse democracy. I will bring that awareness of social concern back to Ohio with me, and I’ll handle it with a sense of responsibility.

But I’m going back to Ohio to be with my family. I’ve come to believe that sharing proximity with the people who have rooted for me most is something I should prioritize, especially when I’m able. Anytime I get into conversations about family dynamics with friends, I typically end up saying something like, “Well, I’m really lucky because my parents are probably the healthiest and most in-love couple I’ve ever encountered, and my family has been quite functional by and large.” Anything nice anyone has to say about me is a direct result of my family. Sure, I make my own effort to be a decent human being—but they laid a strong foundation that has been hard to shake despite a fair amount of testing.

As I shared in the previous essay, my mom isn’t having the best experience with her health. She has an incurable disease that used to only flare up once in a while, but now it has her suffering daily. This has, of course, hugely inspired the move.

I was with a friend the other night, and we were talking about my feelings about returning home. I shared that it’s certainly a challenge in some ways. My life has been here for so long, many of my friends are here, the business has been able to grow here in a way that I think was easier having been in a city. But I also told me friend that my mom is entering the final third of her life, so her perspective is that the majority of her life is now in the rear-view mirror—I'm sure she's ready to cash in on all that she’s accomplished until this point, which I’m sure includes having me nearby. When I’ve told people about my moving back home and why I’m doing it, I’ve truly been surprised that most of the reactions have been: “Wow, that’s a big sacrifice. You’re a good daughter for doing that.” I truly do appreciate that sentiment, but it has given me pause every time I hear it. I have been trying to diagnose why I can’t totally accept that affirmation, and I think it’s more accurate to say that my mom’s been a great mother. She has had the harder job, and she’s done it so well that it doesn’t feel sacrificial to return home—particularly in a time of need, and particularly when the time we have together only gets thinner and less promised.

Not to mention the fact that Ohio is pretty great! Here’s the website of the town where I grew up, which uses exactly 39872493 fonts. There is a national park nearby with tons of hiking trails rich with chances to embody the transcendental likes of Emerson and Thoreau, the cost of living is amazing, Akron is a gem of a city with so much juicy and strange creativity that one can hardly stand it, and the pace of life feels more aligned with my personality. There’s a steady hum of blue collar work ethic, but never at the expense of meaningful time spent with the ones you love most.

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