This question opened an article in the op-ed section yesterday in my local newspaper, the Star Gazette. Written by a younger columnist, John Cleary, it described his feelings over the possibility of leaving his lifelong home in Elmira, seeking a new home where the problems that now seem to beset the streets of the this small city seem further away. It’s a difficult decision because he has only known this area and never even considered the possibility of leaving it. It is home, after all.
But, as he writes, “When we hear of dismal ratings of Elmira’s schools, when the newspaper is full of stories of police standoffs, shootings and meth labs, when we visit the neighborhoods we grew up in and realize we wouldn’t want our children to be there, the urge to go away feels very strong.” He doesn’t even mention the extraordinarily high property taxes (some of the highest in the nation), the economy that was tepid even during the boom years were happening nationally or the brain drain of youth heading away from this area.
The article resonated with me, made me ask the same questions of my own life in this area. Why do I live here?
Some answers are easy. I like the natural beauty of the area, the lushness of the green in the summer and the gray hills and valleys in the winter. We have the Finger Lakes just to our north with their wineries and scenic vistas. I like the history of this area and the connections my family has in it. I like the familiarity of each place, knowing where things are and the ease of getting to them in this relatively small community. It is home, after all.
There are family connections as well although many folks have left the area or passed away and I don’t maintain great contact with the ones that remain.
That doesn’t sound like much. I think about my father who now lives in Florida. He had left this area after retiring in his 50’s, returning a time or two, the last after my mother died 15 years ago. Since that time he has split his time between Florida and here with his new partner. While here he is never really happy about it– actually, he’s miserable being here– and counts the days until he returns to Florida.
For years, I never understood how he could feel such misery in being here but the more I thought about it, the more I could see his perspective. He knew this area when it was larger and more vibrant, filled with friends and family and life. It must have been like seeing someone that you loved and remembered as young and strong start to die and emaciate before your eyes. Soon you see just a hoolow carcass of the person that was and you don’t even recognize them. Even sadder, they don’t recognize you. The relationship has changed and the only thing that keeps you around is some sort of loyalty to the memory of what once was. Staying becomes painful.
Maybe that’s overstating it. I don’t know.
Why I live here remains a difficult question to answer. It’s the only place where I feel a connection to the place and my ancestry but is that enough? Where we live is a relationship and like all relationships, there are negative aspects we must accept in order to maintain that relationship. When the negatives far outweigh the positives, we tend to break off the relationship, or, at least, we should.
Hard questions to ask, even harder to answer. I hope Mr. Cleary finds an answer that satisfies his life and needs. I know his article has made me think.