Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Life Lesson Remembered

So Grateful to be a Mormon recently wrote a post about being grateful for little things and keeping your eyes open to the good things around you. This reminded me of a life lesson that I learned a while back.

Mr.4444 and I each grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. If you know anything about Green Bay (and Wisconsin, in general) you know that people are friendly; you will never stand in a line in Green Bay for more than five minutes without learning something personal about the person in line in front of you or behind you (or both.) Mark and I are no exception; we are both very friendly and talk to strangers on a regular basis. We are "people persons."

In 1990, Mark and I got married and made a home in tiny Hoopeston, Illinois, where Mark had landed his first "real job." Hoopeston (125 miles south of Chicago) was the self-proclaimed "Sweetcorn Capital of the World," but was really just 7000 people living in the middle of an enormous cornfield in the middle of a flat, flat state. Because of a Kentuckian influence, people there called us "Borb and Mork." These friendly folks used expressions like, "We was fixin' to" and "it's clear over yonder." Mark worked as an inside salesman for a company called FMC, which played a large role in the Hoopeston economy. I took a job at a group home for boys, in nearby Danville, Illinois (a 20-minute drive).

As I said, Hoopeston was (and still is) a tiny little town and very blue-collar. People who didn't work in the FMC factory worked at the local grocery stores, Pamida, American Can and Stokely's canneries, or drove to Danville to do similar work. College-educated and from the "big city," compared to Hoopeston, I thought the people there were nice and all, but I did not see myself belonging there; I was more "sophisticated" than those people. I considered Hoopeston a stepping stone for Mark career-wise; I figured we would live there maybe a year or two and then move up.

I had already moved a bunch of times in my young adult years; I expected to move again. I didn't even hang things on the walls in our home (we rented 1/2 of a house). I went to my job every day and developed one close relationship there, but overall, I mostly kept a polite distance from folks in Hoopeston. "Why bother developing friendships here?" I figured to myself. "We'll be moving away before long." I didn't exactly avoid people, but I did not go out of my way to nurture friendships in Hoopeston (although Mark did).

Three years later, FMC moved Mark to an Outside Sales position, and we headed to upstate New York. We were excited; a young "yuppie" couple, moving to the glamorous state of NY. We moved into a duplex in the bedroom community of Ballston Spa, and I started a new job in Schenectady. The business of moving took up a lot of our time at first, but soon, we were ready to meet our neighbors. We met the people next door; the Martins, who were friendly, yet private. In spite of our efforts to befriend other neighbors, though, we were met with a seeming indifference. People just weren't friendly! We'd pull in the driveway and wave to a neighbor, only to be ignored. Two neighbors could be blowing snow side by side and never even nod acknowledgement of each other. After a year, we finally became polite friends with our neighbors on the other side of us. This was really weird for us; not being super friendly with our neighbors. The isolation was amplified when I went on bedrest for three months with my first pregnancy and Mark was still traveling a lot for work.

When we moved again to Webster, New York, I did make a good friend (in Kandee), and we had one "couple" friend, but in general, we were lonely (me, especially, since Mark still traveled a lot on business.) We were two very social people in an area where people were private and kept to themselves, for the most part. More and more, I began to appreciate those "simple" folks from Hoopeston. Suddenly, those "country people" became smarter than I was; they knew the true value of friendship. Unfortunately, it was too late; I had avoided setting roots down in Hoopeston because I kept looking to the future, instead of appreciating what I had in front of me all along. It took moving to New York state to learn how foolish I had been.

This was a life lesson I have never forgotten. First of all, I learned that you should appreciate what you have when you have it; you might not always be so blessed. I also learned to embrace the love and friendship that is offered to me, always, and to reach out to others who might be isolated in our community. I learned that it's wrong (and stupid) to think someone's friendship is not worth your trouble or that you are any better than someone else, just because you have a higher status job or more education. I'm ashamed of my attitude back then, and I am grateful to God for straightening me out in a gentle, yet clear way.

Just some food for thought...

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