When I was a teenager I dreamed of getting away. I imagined myself in a university so big that no one would know my name; where I would be just another face in the crowd. A place where I could be who I wanted and not who I was or where I came from. There’s something about that dream that’s pure adolescence, but there’s also something about that dream that I still carry with me.
I come from a small community. I didn’t grow up in a small town; we lived on the outskirts of the sprawling suburbs of the metro Vancouver area. But it was a small Christian community within the community. The kind of place where everyone knows someone who knows everyone. If you’re not actually biologically related, it wouldn’t take long to find some sort of connection between you and nearly every last person around. I’m sure some of you are familiar with that scenario and there’s something both incredibly comforting and intolerably stifling about it.
I never gave it much thought until I got a little older. Once I did, I started imagining my escape. But life didn’t really work out that way. By the time I graduated from high school those huge universities were far enough out of my reach as to seem impossible to touch. I stayed closer to home, studying at the university nearby and setting my sights on an arts degree and a follow up program in magazine publishing—in another university but still within driving distance of home. I also started spending a lot of time with a certain boy. By the time I finished my arts degree we were engaged, and when I finished the publishing program we were married. I settled into a life that looked a lot more like the one I was trying to avoid than the one I had imagined.
Then something changed. I got sick with what at first seemed like a slightly life-disrupting illness. Within a year I had logged one major surgery, weeks of hospital stays, and countless medications and had lost over 40 pounds. And—along with our family and friends—that community that I wanted so badly to escape from kept us afloat. Cards, meals, visits, prayers and well wishes; I was thankful for each and every one. Even when the question was, “How are you doing?” and the answer was “Terrible.” I was still thankful that they had taken the time to ask.
So when I started to emerge from that darkness and into some semblance of a normal life, what did I do? I ran. We didn’t run very far, but I still felt terrible. It was like I had said, “Thanks for everything but we’re probably going to be OK now.” But at the time, I just wanted to look around and see more than reminders of my sickness.
Now as we’re dreaming up ways to go even farther, I come back to that teenaged desire. What is it that makes me want to go? Part of it is a longing to see the world, experience different cultures, and expand my own understanding. To some extent the idea of leaving means I can leave parts of myself behind. I can try on new parts to see how they fit. But leaving also makes room for escaping accountability. And I’m not always great with accountability.
I know that this isn’t the most appealing trait, which is part of why this is hard for me to write. I also don’t want you to think that I’m ashamed of where I’m from. But sometimes honesty—and mass accountability—are necessary. Because I don’t think I’m the only one with the desire to go. And that desire is often what keeps us from digging into a community, from investing in others, and from experiencing the little joys and frustrations of living as an everyday Christian.
Those little joys and frustrations are the things that I’m trying to build—whether that’s in the community I came from, or the one I find myself in now. Living through the awkwardness and the difficulties and the boredom is the only way to form true relationships. And in the end, the only way to really experience community.
I’m not saying I’ll never leave. I’m still scheming my next passport stamp and imagining life somewhere else. But next time I leave I want to make sure I’m not running.