My eight-year old son, Wise, is fascinated with foreign currencies. His class finished a unit on money from around the world this year, so he collected all the foreign coins and bills we had around the house to show to his classmates. It was kind of a retrospective for me, of all the places I’d been. I traveled often in my twenties, comparatively.
I thought I was becoming a frequent tourist, and yet, excluding a few short cuts across Ontario to go from Michigan to the East Coast, I haven’t left the United States again since my trip to Russia ten years ago.
Sometimes when I see my friends’ posts about their trips to Europe and their vacations to Mexico, I’m jealous. Then I wander my neighborhood, or make my six minute drive to work, and this line enters my mind (again from Emerson’s Self-Reliance — you might think I’ve only ever read one document in my life),
It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans.
There’s nothing wrong with traveling abroad. I plan to do more of it, when and if we have more time and money. I imagine going to Belize or returning to Amsterdam for my fortieth birthday. But a person can really do a lot to educate herself within her own community, wherever it is.
When I dreamt of where I’d end up living my life, Memphis, TN never crossed my mind. But Memphis does have what I need to live a good life. For this middle-class white woman, it’s an easier place to live than the cities where I envisioned myself before. It’s cheaper than Boston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. I’m closer to family than I would be in London or Jerusalem.I can afford to go to the theater, own two cars, pay the mortgage on a 2,000 sq. ft. home, and send my children to a good public school. I’ve had the freedom to quit one career, wander professionally for a few years, and choose another path. I’d never have had the freedom to do that in most other places.
Yet we’re surrounded by people who can’t do the same even here. I live in one of the most truly diverse neighborhoods in the United States — economically and racially.
Reluctant to be part of a gentrification movement, I’m glad we purchased a house in a relatively stable community. But even here big changes are coming. A few decades ago a Sears distribution center closed in our neighborhood. A few years ago, an organization purchased it and is now creating a “mixed-use vertical urban village.” This gigantic building is slated to soon hold schools, a university campus, art studios, medical facilities, charities, restaurants, possibly a grocery store. If all goes as planned, I imagine that within five years our neighborhood will look very different and I wonder how I will change with it.