Walking down the aisles of the grocery store, I felt a little bit like I was in the Twilight Zone. Every time I turned a corner, a smiling, friendly employee popped their head out, like a Jack in the Box asking, "How are you today? Are you finding everything alright?"
I began to wonder why everyone I passed looked me in the eye, or why total strangers talked to me as though I knew them. After less than an hour of being in public in the Mid-West, I started feeling uncomfortable "Why does everyone keep smiling at me? Why are you looking at me? Why are you so interested in how I'm doing today?" My thoughts raced as I gave threatening looks and fingered the mace in my purse.
I've always thought of Californians as being sunny, happy people-- tan & athletic, smiling as they drove with the top down on their convertible. I was wrong. We are all horrible, closed off, private people-- comparatively.
Apparently living in the city has done something to me. I have realized that I never look people in the eye when I pass them on the street. Something about living in a crowded city makes you covet the little space you have-- even mental space. When someone looks you in the eye, they are entering your world, your thoughts, even.
But Colorado is a place of open fields, impossibly huge mountains, and a sky that it somehow bigger & bluer than anything I have seen. With all that space comes a generosity that I'm not used to. People have room to look one another in the eye, to greet each other. They have the space in their lives to drive 30 miles per hour down the main city streets-- something that drives me absolutely insane. My ankle cramps up holding the gas pedal down at a steady 30mph, rather than breaking & gunning it, swerving around the slalom of San Francisco streets.
There is space for things like dish washers, spare bedrooms, basements & garages, and even *extra* cars (imagine!). There's space to live life at a slower pace-- even to talk a little slower.
As strange as it has been for me-- and even though I have almost thrown things with the sheer frustration of the pace of life (especially traffic)-- I have to admit that it has been therapeutic to slow down a bit. Having a regular rhythm to life (leave the house by 8 every morning, sit in the same classroom for 5-7 hrs, workout, eat dinner, do homework, go to bed...) has been hard to get used to. The variety of our jobs & our lives in San Francisco is wonderful, always keeping us on our toes. But I have to say that I haven't really missed it.
It's been great to be surrounded by friends, to not carry the stress of leadership, to simply show up and be taught. Don't get me wrong: it's been mentally & emotionally exhausting-- but in a completely different way than we're used to, and it's kind of nice.
The part I was most worried about was being surrounded by the army of conservative Christians, in khaki pants and polo shirts. And, for the first week or so, it was a little hard. But as I have gotten to know people on a deeper level & have seen their hearts, I can feel myself softening towards those backward country bumpkins (that was meant to be funny, by the way). I even noticed the other day that I had been singing Christian praise songs to myself. Weird [Promise me that if I get a mini-van or a Know Jesus, Know Peace; No Jesus, No Peace bumper sticker, you will intervene.]
As strange as it sounds, I really am having a great time. I might even say that I am sincerely enjoying myself in the Mid-West. I still don't know what to do when people look me in the eye-- I usually looks away awkwardly, pretending to see something interesting in the other direction-- but after a few more weeks, I might even be smiling that the Safeway employees. I have heard that generosity is contagious.