The reality of place has weighed heavily on me from a very young age. My knowledge of self has always been inseparable from the place in which I live. My understanding of who I am has been closely tied to those with whom I most often interact—family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and even those with whom I have a nodding acquaintance (a phrase that has become unfortunately abstract in a world that no longer values simple signs of courtesy and respect). Remove me from familiar places, and I become a stranger in a strange land, longing for my home.
Even when, as a typical teenager, I longed to leave my hometown, my departure always ended, in my imagination, with my return. A life elsewhere, among other people, is an abstraction: Home is reality.
Of course, I no longer live in my hometown—and yet, in fact, I do. In Huntington, as in Rockford, as in Spring Lake, I have walked the streets until they have become a part of me, and found my place among a people who are not simply passing through but are deeply rooted in this portion of God’s green earth and the little bit of civilization that has been built upon it, for all intents and purposes autochthonous and autonomous, a true community made up not of individuals with entirely separate lives but of persons whose sense of themselves is tightly woven with their sense of their neighbor and of their place.