How many times have we heard someone say, “I have lived here all my life.” “Having grown up here, she understands the needs of this town.” “He knows how things work because he was born and raised here.”
I have heard such things all my life, and used them from time to time as well. Being a virtual transient since I left home for college at 18, it sometimes makes me sad that I did not stay in the town I grew up in, raising a family there and remaining a part of that community. My hometown was in a rural area of northern Illinois. A town of 1,100 fine people. One stop light, (oh, the scandal the day that went in!) and about six churches. Today it is a bit more sprawling. According to latest census data, it is 1,920 people strong.
Where I grew up, 300 acres of farm property outside of town is now a beautiful, natural Prairie Park and all of my family lives somewhere else. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that place fondly. When I hear those comments above, I sometimes feel inadequate, and then the day-to-day reality of work, life, family, school, etc., kicks in and I am shocked back into the present.
I have moved a lot since those days. I went to college in Wisconsin and graduate school in Alabama; lived in Chicago and New York, and worked lengthy jobs in Utah, Washington, D.C., Missouri, and Upstate New York. I settled for a time in Queens. Then I met my partner and wife, moved to Brooklyn, and in 2008, bought a house in Norwalk.
There are many folks like me. The call to follow your dream no matter where it takes you is strong. But these days we also move around a lot for work, or school, or cost-of-living advantages. People sometimes have two or three careers and a dozen or so jobs. Employers don’t have the same loyalty to their workers or their communities that they once did. Does this make people who have lived in more than one place any less valid? I don’t think so.
I wanted to be out of the big city, and so we came to Norwalk. My wife is an urban girl; I am a country boy, so it made sense to find a community that was close to transportation options and that had good schools. More suburban than my rural birthplace but less bustling than NYC, our new place still had to be as diverse as the areas we’d lived in. Norwalk was that place.
I chose Norwalk. I researched it, discovered it, and finally decided that this was where I wanted to buy a home for the long haul. When a habitual mover like me makes that decision, it takes a while for roots to grow. For me those roots took hold the day that our son came into our lives. I want him to have the stability I had for those first 18 years before college. I want him to know all the cool little places where you go to hang out, or unwind, or just be a kid.
Now the big question: Where do I fit in a world where so many people have a shared history? How do I learn those little nuances and quirks that make up the character traits of people I have not known all my life? The shorthand of those who went from cradle to school to marriage to…well, you get the idea. When do I get the inside joke, or the knowing look, when someone says something that elicits the look that says, “isn’t that just like (insert name.”)
A few years ago, I decided to stop talking and start doing. Heck, I live here now. So I joined some committees, went to some meetings, and started getting to know more of my neighbors. Strictly speaking, I am still an outsider. Truth be told, so are most of my neighbors. There are a few ways that populations grow. Babies are born into families that have lived generations in the same house. And then there’s the rest of us: people who have chosen to live here simply because it’s a good place to live. People who, having done so, want to give something back to the community they’ve chosen as theirs.
So I ask those of you who have lived in a city, a neighborhood, a house all your lives, those who know everyone in the store, the diner, or the local pub, to take a chance on someone who has come here by choice, to make a home, a life, and a difference.
Thanks for reading and for making this place the jewel that it is. You’re why I’m here.
Candidate for Common Council