Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Where everybody knows your name . . .

I've lived in Chicago for over eight years now, including six years in my current neighborhood. What I could not get over for the first few years I lived here was how rarely I ran into anyone I knew around town. It's a little thing, but any time I went to the grocery store or a bar or the library or a restaurant, I saw another person I knew (like to greet and talk to) maybe one in twenty outings. Maybe.

I did (and do) have some friends and family living in Chicago, lest you think I wandered the streets alone and lonely and holed up in my apartment in those dark, pre-DVR days. But, I don't know, it felt kind of sad to be to be so anonymous in so many places.

Now that Bub is almost four and we've lived in our house for almost five years, I am more likely to run into people I know. I've met other moms at kiddie classes and parks. I have a network of friends and acquaintances from Bub's school (which is part of our parish), and we still have friends from undergrad, graduate schools, and former jobs that we happen upon or get together with, as well as friends of friends we've gotten to know over the years. Again, we're not lonely and alone, and I am thankful for that.

But, but, well . . . I still would like to feel more connected.

On Sunday evening, hubby and I attended a very lovely holiday party at the home of our behind-the-alley neighbors. Great food. We enjoyed being out of our house, of course, and chatting with familiar and unfamiliar party guests.

The host of the party offered us a quick tour of their place. In their lower level, they had two young women watching their son and other kids (ours were at home) who had come to the party with their parents. One of the babysitters looked so familiar to me, and it took me a second to place her. I confirmed her name with our host and then approached her. She recognized me right away and greeted me with a warm and enthusiastic hug. How did we know each other, asked the host.

The truth is that we do not know each other that well, but we are connected. We took turns offering our common ties:

I explained that she graduated from high school with my brother.

She explained that her mom was my eighth grade teacher. I piped in to add that my class was her mom's first class.

She reminded me that she worked for six years for a man who is one of my dad's best friends. The same place where my cousins worked for so many years, I clarify to my husband.

We had already freaked out my neighbor a little bit, but really we had only scratched the surface.

I could have added that her uncle was my dad's best man and is my youngest sister's godfather.

It turns out that the other babysitter went to college with another person we know in common -- daughter of my grade school principal, teammate of my sister, grade school and high school classmate of my brother, former girlfriend of the brother of one of my closest high school friends.

So many connections and, again, it's not like I know this young woman very well. It's not like we've had hundreds of conversations or even more than a handful of interactions, if that. But I was so, so happy to see her and to experience for that moment, the feeling of being connected (in a non corporate-networking way).

I guess if I still lived in the area where I grew up (which I would be happy to do, by the way), these layers of connections and multiple, twisting ties would not be such a big deal to me. I would probably take them for granted or even get annoyed that everyone knew my business and history.

But I think I'm missing out a bit.

I know that my husband and I will work hard to become part of the community where we raise our kids. I hope that our children will build and experience a sense of history and connection with friends, neighbors, classmates, teammates, fellow parishioners, and the like.

I have to say though that I mourn the fact that, as our life is now, it is not likely that our kids will ever have the layers of connections and ties that exist when you live in the same area where your parents grew up, graduate from the same high school as your parents and other relatives, and on and on.

We have a good life here, and I look forward to all the stages still to come with school and sports and everything that comes with grade school and high school age children. I wish my family and oldest friends were right down the street, but they're not. I am thankful, however, for the people we know now and who we will know . . . those who do and will constitute our community and sense of connection.

I will continue to treasure the unexpected moments of recognition and connection that come my way.


Maggie said...

Your post just brought a few tears to my eyes because of the personal feelings it provoked, especially on the verge of another move to a new city for our family. Sigh! I'd never change a thing about my life, but I can relate!

Anonymous said...

I can just imagine that conversation! Cracking me up! I feel you, though. I do live in the community in which I was raised and I frequently run into people that I know or used to know quite well. I often find myself wishing for a little disconnect. It worries me that people remember me for who I was instead of learning who I have become. I guess we should just be thankful for all the beautiful people in our lives, new or old connections. Rita

LAP said...

I enjoy a good connection as well. Though Rita doesn't want to be remembered for who she was, I sometimes wish that the new people I met could have known me before I became a sleep deprived, far less organized version of my former self!

Really enjoyed this post:)

CaraBee said...

I sometimes wish that I could have those kind of connections, but the sad fact is that there is not a town on earth that would provide it. My family are nomads. No one lives in the town they grew up in.

I comfort myself, though, that my in-laws are a wonderful group and I have an amazing circle of friends. Several circles, really. Those are my six degrees people.

E... said...

I am always amazed that even when I visit my parents, how very rarely I run across people I knew growing up. I guess if my kids went to school there it would be different. Also, I don't live in a very big town now, and am surprised that I don't run into more people I know in my day to day business. Maybe it's a change in the way people interact these days. If so, that makes me sad.

Beth said...

Loved your post, MEP. You and the crew need to move back to D'town. There are so many layers of connections in this town it will drive you crazy, but is very comforting in a strange sort of way.

Maggie said...

sorry about my emotional post yesterday, I was having a "moment"!

Recovered and I must say, Adam can't keep up for a second when we are in Hamilton - the web of connections is ridiculous!

Sue and Randy said...

Loved the post--being in Texas, I can relate in a big way. I had a 15 minute conversation with a clerk at The Loft last week because she was from Illinois. Really...not even the same part of the state, but I longed for that connection and probably freaked her out a bit by talking for so long!

Actchy said...

I have felt this way myself many times, and I'm not far from my home town (only about an hour and a half.) You are right, though, that were you back in Ohio, those run-ins wouldn't be as special. Sometimes, when I'm visiting my parents, I'll run into somebody at the Target, and I'll be *astonished* and talk about it for days. But the person I run into is usually like, "Um, duh. It's Target. I come here four times a day and run into people I know every time."

On a side note, some people can make connections anywhere. Like my mom. She blew out her knee on a ski slope in Vale, and the EMT in the ski patrol lodge was a graduate of her high school in Philadelphia.

PITA said...

I am with you. Now that I have lived here a bit, I do run into people I know more frequently. I guess I just wish they automatically knew the things that make me "me."

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