Home is where the headstones are

With the twins entering preschool this fall, I decided it was time to reclaim my running legs. So I went for a walk/run the other day in my new town along a route recommended by my sister-in-law.
The route took me through a local cemetery, which was appropriate; By the time I got there, I wanted nothing more than to take a long rest.
So I walked.
I have run through many cemeteries over the years, but I haven’t walked though one in decades. Not since I was a child. As a child, I would run from stone to stone, seeking out familiar names and looking for the grave of my sister, who died as a baby when I was only two years old.
I derived a sense of comfort from cemeteries back then even though I was generally terrified of anything involving death. The bodies that lie under my feet were those of relatives or the relatives of friends. They were people who were part of my history.
I felt, oddly, at home.
But I did not get that sense here.
Here, in this cemetery, in the community where I will live for the rest of my life, where we will raise our four children, where my husband grew up, was evidence of a certain status I will never achieve. I am an outsider. I always will be, no matter how deeply entrenched I become.
And that is okay.
I have my own hometown.
My own cemeteries.
I have another place that has fused within my core and will always be part of who I am.
But our kids don’t have that.
Two were born in Arizona, and two were born in Cincinnati.
Their roots have easily come loose with each move, leaving little or nothing behind. (Well, not as easily for the older kids this time around. We had to tug a little harder and their leaves are still a bit droopy and wilted from the shock, but I am confident they will recover and flourish.)
I had never understood the need for the formalities of cemeteries before, for gravestones and memorials and family plots. My irrational fears dictate that I be cremated after death, and I hadn’t given much thought to where my ashes would land.
My husband has strong feelings though, so I agreed long ago to his request that, when our souls are long gone from this world, my ashes will lie with him, wherever he might choose.
But on this day, I started to understand something. I understood that this isn’t just about me. This is about our children and their children and their children. This is about that feeling, that sense of belonging.
Home.
Our hope is that this is the place where our children will grow roots so strong that no one and nothing can rip them out, regardless of where they settle in adulthood. This will be the place they can come home to no matter how long they have been away.
A sense of history and of their place within that history will help those roots grow thick, deep and strong.
Cemeteries provide some of that nourishment.
A great deal more than I realized.
And this cemetery, in particular, provided me with nourishment of a different kind. After passing all those gravestones– lingering long enough to read the names and the dates of death and birth and realizing that they were often far to close together –I found the motivation to pick up my pace again.
It was hot.
I was (and am) horribly out of shape.
But I ran.
Just a couple of quarter-mile stretches.
But I ran.

Good-bye Cincinnati

When my husband and I moved to Arizona almost 11 years ago, it was supposed to be a temporary thing. An adventure.
Our ticket to the life we had always dreamed about.
My husband, a former journalist, had been working from home as a programmer for a media software company based in Scottsdale. His bosses wanted him to move into management to help the company go public. That required a physical move as well.
Two years, they said.
That was all.
The company would pay for our relocation to Arizona and then move us back east when our time was up. We would earn enough from stock options to build a house on his parents’ farm in Pennsylvania, something we’d talked about since we started dating.
I had to give up my newspaper job, but I was sure I would find work in Phoenix.
And, when all this was over, he and I would both be able to work from home while we raised a family.
We weren’t counting on me getting pregnant before we even got there.
We weren’t counting on the company going under.
We weren’t counting on living in Arizona for five years, or in Cincinnati for six years.
But we went where life took us, always believing that things would work out in the end.
And they have.
In seven weeks, we will move to Pennsylvania with our four young children. We bought a house to live in while we build our final home. The house is in a burough of about 700 people, where the nearest mall is 50 miles away and the convenience store has hitching posts for the Amish.
And we can’t wait.
For the first time, we will be near family and that’s far more important than the convenience of 24-hour grocery stores, multiple fast-food restaurants and a selection of wi-fi coffee houses (Okay, so maybe I will miss Starbucks and Panera).
We will be able to help care for his mother as she ages and we will be free to travel to my parents’ house when we have vacation time. My husband’s sister and niece live within walking distance, and two of my sisters and my stepdaughter are only a short drive away.
My husband will keep his job.
His company has been gracious enough to let him work from home.
We will miss all the people we have come to know in Cincinnati, just as we miss those who we left behind in Arizona. Our older children have roots here. This is where they attended preschool, kindergarten and most of elementary school.
But both kids value family tremendously.
They are as excited as we are.
The twins will have few memories of their birthplace, but we will bring them back. We will remind them that  Cincinnati has been good to us. We have plenty of good friends here and lots wonderful memories. Best of all, Cincinnati gave us two healthy young boys.
Arizona was equally good. We left there with a healthy son and daughter; a greater understanding for Mexican/western culture; and an appreciation for a different kind of nature than we were accustomed to. We plan to spend many weeks each year of our retirement there.
And so it is that, with a sense of contentment and fulfillment, that we say this:
Good-bye, Cincinnati.
Good-bye and thank you.

Distance and the evolution of friendships

A friend and I were chatting the other day when I mentioned a woman I had been close with for many years. First, I described her as one of my closest friends, a friend for nearly two decades. Then I corrected myself. We’re not so close anymore, I said.
Not since I moved.
My friend’s reaction: So when you move, they’re not your close friends any more?
For a moment, I was taken aback. My husband and I are hoping to relocate in the near future and I certainly didn’t want this woman to feel like I would place any less value on our friendship simply because of a geographical change.
Not at all.
But these changes in intensity have not been my choice.
They were, simply, an inevitable effect of moving.
It is a lesson I have learned over the past 11 years as we have dragged our belongings back and forth across the country from New York to Arizona to Cinncinati, where we live now. Each time we moved, I felt that huge void, that loss of the immediate physical presense of my good friends, the people I could count on when I was bummed out, excited or just plain bored.
And each time, I vowed to maintain that intensity from afar with phone calls, emails and occassional visits.
I succeeded at first, especially when we all had young children and craved that adult conversation. There is nothing like a good phone call with an old friend when you are cooing with a baby who cannot converse in return.
But then something happened.
Our babies got older and we were stuck in the house less often. They became little people, engaging us in fascinating conversations about bugs and dinosaurs and Swiper the fox. Suddenly, I noticed that my old friends had less and less to say. Uncomfortable pauses became more frequent. The time between calls grew. The calls were shorter and the emails less detailed.
The babies were one factor.
The other was simple logistics.
In my previous communities, I was just one among of a network of friends. When I left, I damaged those networks–some more than others–but the rest remained intact. I left my friends in the hands of other friends, in familiar surroundings with communities that were familiar to them, open and welcoming. Though I know they missed me, the gaps I left were quickly repaired.
I had left them with everything, but me.
But when I settled in my new communities, I was on my own. I had to cultivate new friendships from scratch, learn my surroundings, learn the cultural temperment of the areas and gain acceptance, in some sense, in the communities. I had to built a network from scratch or find a place in a new one.
It was difficult and it was, at times, lonely.
In the beginning it was easy to tap into those old friendships.
Too easy.
But it wasn’t easy for my old friends and it wasn’t healthy for me. Maintaining intense friendships from afar requires a great deal of energy and a denial of that which is physically present. If I focused all of my efforts on the old friendships, I left little for the people who were new in my life.
I had to reduce my dependence, especially since they had done that long before.
That does not mean that I love the old friend we discussed any less. I would still do anything for her, fly out there to be with her in a crisis, call her with news of any major event in my life. She still means the world to me and our years of “best” friendship can never be undone.
It means simply that we no longer share the details of our everyday lives, what I like to call the minor big things. I don’t call her when all the kids are sick and I need to vent. I don’t call her when my kids reach particular milestones, when I’m thinking about whether to cover my emerging gray, when I am annoyed about a particular situation in my life.
And I no longer get upset when she fails to share those things with me.
I did not lose friends. The nature of my friendships simply changed and I welcomed new people into my life, like her, the woman I was chatting with. And I have no doubt I will remain connected with this newer friend for many years to come regardless of the miles between us. We met through a mutual passion for writing, something that can be nourished from afar, no matter how quickly our children grow.