We know we won’t be in New Haven come the Fall. It’s very exciting and God has been very, very good to us and I can’t wait to share where we’re headed with everyone, but we want to make sure we tell everyone IRL first. (And I’ve been stealing Chris’ thunder all week already…)
I’m trying to focus on the excitement that awaits us at our next destination, but I can’t always repress the hollow feeling in my stomach that arises when I think about leaving. It sounds dramatic (I hate sounding dramatic) but it’s the best way I can describe it. New Haven isn’t my favorite city, but it provided us with a lot of firsts: our first names-on-the-lease apartment as married people, the hospital where our first kid was born, our first adult friendships (non-college subtype), the beginning of our lives as Catholics. I spent our first year here lonely, pregnant, depressed, and very cold. I wanted to get out of here as soon as we could. I never would have expected to be sad to leave. This is a particularly upper-middle class ennui, I know. “Boohoo, your husband is getting his PhD at a top program and you have to move.” It’s not a heavy cross compared to others, but following the will of God often means having “no place to rest your head” and I struggle with that hard truth.
In his Jefferson Lecture at the Kennedy Center in 2012, Wendell Berry cited his teacher and fellow author, Wallace Stegner’s categorization of Americans into “Boomers” and “Stickers.” Berry:
My effort to make sense of this memory and its encompassing history has depended on a pair of terms used by my teacher, Wallace Stegner. He thought rightly that we Americans, by inclination at least, have been divided into two kinds: “boomers” and “stickers.” Boomers, he said, are “those who pillage and run,” who want “to make a killing and end up on Easy Street,” whereas stickers are “those who settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.” “Boomer” names a kind of person and a kind of ambition that is the major theme, so far, of the history of the European races in our country. “Sticker” names a kind of person and also a desire that is, so far, a minor theme of that history, but a theme persistent enough to remain significant and to offer, still, a significant hope.
The boomer is motivated by greed, the desire for money, property, and therefore power. […] Stickers on the contrary are motivated by affection, by such love for a place and its life that they want to preserve it and remain in it.
While his characterization of Boomers is a bit hyperbolic, I think he gestures at a genuine critique of contemporary American Belmont. To be successful is to go where the money/success/easy living is. A rolling stone gathers no moss, etc. Our culture and economy is built on a Boomer mentality: move to a metropolis and be willing to pack up and move to the next one in pursuit of happiness. So now we have the hoards of deracinated millenials (my future band name), who get criticized for passing up home ownership and their desire to travel to find themselves or whatever when much of our elite culture is built on flexibility. Admittedly, Chris and I have embraced this in some way. We didn’t have to move away from home to go to college in the Boomeriest city in America; we didn’t have to marry each other despite being from different sides of the country; we didn’t have to choose to leave New Haven to pursue his PhD. So we’re products of our time in some major ways, but I hope we can be Stickers filled with affection for the places we find ourselves.
I sing the praises of our parish a lot, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that on the pie chart of relationships that made me love living here, it would take up as much pumpkin pie I eat on Thanksgiving, like a whole 85% of the pie. There was a lot of good about the Protestant church Chris and I were members of in DC, and one of the better principles our pastor promoted was unity in diversity; real church membership involves loving people who are different than you in life stage, background, race, or class. There’s nothing like bumping up against people different than me to make me realize loving people is not within my nature. I find my love mixed up with vanity or pride or duty. But that’s what grace is for and the grace of other-centered love maybe comes a teensy bit more easily after the rock tumbler of parish life.
Yes, many, if not most, of my friends are young women with children. But our very first friends when we started RCIA were all older and we were always invited to brunches or book clubs. The endless stream of meals after Christopher was born showed me inklings of the village that would be the hardest to leave. Of course we’re not good friends with every parishioner, but the multitude of experiences of people we recognize and are fond of also make leaving harder. I think of the widow with grown children who moved up from her pew to help me with Christopher during Mass the weekend Chris was gone for his interview, helping him pay attention to the consecration and allowing me to grab some moments of prayer. Or the man with the booming voice who lets Christopher put his offering in the basket during daily Mass. Or even the time Christopher escaped the basement during coffee hour and another family found him outside and knew he was ours (oops). (There are many Christopher stories.) It means being around long enough to notice new faces and trying to pass on the welcome we received to the couple in front of us one Sunday.
I think you have to be a Sticker in order to have these experiences. It takes time to move beyond being welcomed to rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn, or to learn to be fond even of people who rub you the wrong way. I think we just barely reached that stage and, though I’m excited for our next adventure, I wish we could lean further into life here. The real Benedict Option, I think, is the stability of investing in the place you’re planted. Yes, with fellow travelers in the faith, absolutely, but also loving Pimlico as it is without pronouncing its doom or declaring it utopia. I’m given to both excesses, but I hope I can write the same sort of eulogy for the next place in five to six years when Chris’ job search will kick in and we’ll inevitably have to uproot again. I’ll keep trying to live in the tension of being a temporary Sticker.