I'm not someone who deals well with drastic changes. For those closest to me, they may re-word that statement and simply call me stubborn. I'm ok with that because I know it's true. I married someone who is always trying new things: new foods, new ways to be healthier, new techniques to be happier and more grounded in the world. Part of what drew me to my partner is that he never stops working to better himself and his imprint on the globe. But, it's also a trait that bugs me. I like being lazy and staying in my comfort zone sometimes. Hsiung challenges me to be better. In certain aspects of life I am flexible and open minded; I love meeting new people, going to new places, and seeing how different experiences will change me. But, the other side of me is the part that likes routine, likes to know what I am getting in to, likes to go to the same restaurant and order the same dish. For a teacher that tells others to "EXPLORE! Try new things and see what happens. Change your life and see how your craft takes off" I realize I am a bit of a hypocrite.
About a month ago, Hsiung and I left Pittsburgh, a city of around 300,000 people, and moved to a town in North Carolina that has a population of about 8,000 residents. When I looked out the bedroom window in my Pittsburgh apartment I saw parts of the city's skyline, freeways, and area landmarks. There was a constant flow of energy felt when I lived in Pittsburgh. Now, when I look out any window in my North Carolina apartment, all I see are trees and mountains. In Pittsburgh, I could easily fall asleep to the sound of car horns, sirens, or the neighbor's party occurring below my window. I could basically fall asleep to anything. Now, when I walk out on our back deck in NC, all I hear are crickets and frogs. In many ways, I'm really ok with that. It's not like we live in a really rural area. We have neighbors, stores within walking distance, and we are next to a railroad track. As a kid, I loved listening to my mom talk about growing up in a small Ohio town and being able to hear the trains whistle as they went past her family's home. As an adult, I still get it, I like the romantic feel of a train zooming past, but it's still a sound I'm not used to hearing. Where are all the people? Should I be worried that all of this "peaceful background music" will eventually drive me nuts?
Part of living in a small town is you get to know the people around you, even if you've never met them. Take for example, Jim, the man who lives across the street from our apartment. Our kitchen windows look directly down onto Jim's house. In terms of appearance, Jim looks every bit the character of an older Southern man. Jim loves flannel, looks angry all the time, and spends hours sitting outside with his dog, probably to get away from his cranky wife. I made immediate assumptions about Jim. I figured he was mean, racist, and ignorant. I'm not proud of my assumptions but as someone who now lives in the south and is married to a Chinese man, I worry sometimes about our reception/place in the predominately white/Christian community. But, one day, as we drove onto the road and waved to Jim, he waved back and yelled: "Welcome to the neighborhood!" And, I was pretty sure he meant it.
A few days later, Hsiung walked to the store to pick up some groceries and was gone for a long time. When he got back home he said he had spent a good thirty minutes talking to Jim outside. Hsiung now knew that Jim's first love cheated on him, that Jim and his second wife raised their granddaughter because their daughter couldn't handle the responsibility, and that Jim also took care of his daughter's dog. This is the black lab mix dog that we see Jim with every single day, chatting with as he stands outside, leaning against his car parked on the lawn. At that moment, I knew a few things. First, Jim was humanized and I wanted to know more about him. Second, I was reminded, yet again, of how complex and interesting every person's life truly is. Third, I became acutely aware that I had my own prejudices and assumptions that I needed to work on.
Last Saturday, as I walked down our driveway to the mailbox, I waved and said good morning to Jim and his dog. He returned the greeting and I walked back up to our apartment. Later that day, Hsiung went for a walk and on his way back chatted with Jim. "You got yourself a good lady," Jim remarked to Hsiung. Hsiung smiled and agreed and they both went on with their day. When Hsiung told me about their conversation, I smiled and looked out the window. Obviously, Jim knew what he was talking about.