Images by Caleb Warden
Words by Sarah Ann Noel

Where I grew up, in the cornfields of Indiana, there were two types of kids: those who would choose exactly what their parents had, like their parents before them; and the kids who couldn’t wait to get out.

The latter group was much smaller, and I was in it. It was lonely, partially because it was a small sect, and probably more because everyone assumed you thought yourself better than them. I didn’t; but there is a part of me that believes teenagedom is extra angsty in tiny towns, with so little space for figuring out first loves and daring to imagine the bigger world. Still, there is a romantic element to it all, too, isn’t there? At least that’s how it felt for me.

Maybe it’s because I knew one day I’d look back and there would be sweetness in the innocence: the people I knew; the wind in the cornstalks. You don’t have to be from the Bible belt to understand the nostalgia, but the mid-America vibes and simple country-like setting make for a great depiction of exactly how it feels to grow up: You can’t wait to get there, but you also know it won’t ever feel that simple again.

I find myself in the middle once more, a spot that feels oppressively small and vastly hopeful all at once. I’ve shed the last strings of childhood, I think, but the duties of adulthood still feel more like a possibility than a burden.

I suppose this reflective period was first spurred by a move to New York, alongside a year full of travel. There were journeys across borders, even oceans; but also slow sojourns back to Indiana, a mere 13-hour drive from Brooklyn. It was sort of odd, to flit around the globe and contrast it to this little home I once knew; yet it all still fit.

There’s a restlessness that comes with outgrowing, learning, and trying to fit in somewhere new, and it’s hard to satiate. Goodness knows I’ve gone out there trying to. I’ve encountered a hundred different versions of myself simply in running away from the girl I started out as, but she’s there. What drove me to leave will always be like coming home, interwoven into the fabric of who I am.

My husband and I met when we were only 21, and from those first inklings of romance to the major twists of life, he’s been a constant. He is an anchor, and it’s a relationship I can hold on to no matter what else swirls around us. It’s the sort of love that makes it okay to try on new things, trusting that the real me is rooted down and sturdy. I found that in a brilliant romance, but it’s a love that can be found anywhere--friends, faith, pets, crafts, passions. There are different dedications of love that buoy us, drive us, and make us. There are things that stretch us and hold us tight, all at the same time. And the point is to honor it, to honor all of it.

I found the adventure in trying something new; I am learning the value of respecting what’s been tried and found true. It’s a study I’ve found applicable in almost every facet of life--welcome changes with a grateful embrace, loosely hold onto memories with fondness and gratitude.

This is filling my heart and my thoughts as we prepare for The Art of Being Neighborly. As I dig my hands into the stuff of what Fellow was and begin to marry it with what we hope for it to become, I see the same pattern emerge. It will all be honored. There is a story of where we came from and there is a story of where we are going. 

It all fits. 



Paula Timmel:

Thank you so much for having written this thoughtful essay about being neighborly and grateful! It made me realize that the whole bubble of instagramming and hash tagging lets me live to fast and superficial. There should be more time for people writing beautiful texts like this and others to read them, to think about and to get in communicational exchange. We just lost the track about true things once more…

Jan 04, 2018

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