Quiet Familiarity

I was born in the suburbs of Chicago, raised on the dynasty of the Chicago Bulls and the “curses” of the Chicago Cubs. I lived in the same town until I left for college at the age of 18. “Home” will always be that Chicagoland suburb, but it’s no longer the only place where I grew up.

I moved to Seattle for graduate school when I was 27 years old. I had been to the city years earlier for a short visit and hated it. This didn’t bode well for my cross-country move, but I was desperate for a change so I decided to pack up my belongings and head west. My graduate program was only two years; in an effort to ease my anxiety I told myself I’d move home the day after graduation.

I lived in Seattle for five years, moving only because my brand-new husband was offered a job in the Midwest. Through my grad school work, personal therapy, and the lifelong friends I made in Seattle, I left the city a more whole person. I knew myself better and, by the grace of God, learned to love myself better, too.

It’s been three years since I left the west coast and I still miss it. My husband and I recently went back for a visit, taking our new daughter to the place where we first met. But as we drove into the city limits, my heart sank a little. Where are we, I wondered?

The skyline looks different now. There are new buildings, new businesses in old buildings, and cranes marking the places where even newer buildings are taking shape. Seattle has become home to several large companies, and it has received a major makeover because of it.

This isn’t the place I once knew.

As we exited the highway and drove through the streets of my former neighborhood, the familiarity of the city began to return. Sure, many things had changed—what had been a restaurant was now a gym, and a once-abandoned lot now housed a CVS. As different as the city looked, there were bits and pieces reminding me that this is still the place where I learned, healed, and became more of myself. It’s still the place where I lived with my best friend, trained for my first half marathon, and met my husband. While all the changes feel loud and intrusive, there remains a quiet familiarity that will always greet me, even if it’s found only in the recognizable cracks in the sidewalk.

I birthed my daughter nearly six months ago. I figured that, post-pregnancy, my body would become recognizable to me again but, when I look in the mirror, I still strain to see the body I once knew. I feel the effects of childbirth even still, as my hip flexors struggle to give me the pliability I need to walk without pain. As I wince in discomfort and strain my eyes to see signs of familiarity in this new-to-me body, I find myself asking questions similar to those I asked at the Seattle city limits: Where am I?

 And then—then there are the moments when I glance at familiarity. The freckle on my right wrist or the small scar on each forearm. They are small reminders that this is the body I’ve always had, even though so much of it has changed. This is still the same place I have lived for 34 years.

I cannot always pick and choose how things change. If I left Seattle so transformed after five years, why do I expect Seattle wouldn’t change some, too? The tension of knowing a place so deeply is that it will change—if, of course, it is birthing new things. The maturation and growing pains associated with bringing forth new life are not always pretty or desirable, but if the opposite is stagnancy or stunted growth, I choose new life and change.

As I visit my old stomping grounds or limp my way to a mirror, I’m learning to hold onto the things that bring a quiet familiarity in the face of loud change. Look for the cracks and freckles that whisper a friendly “Hello! I know you!” After all, change will take place, but it doesn’t always have to take all of a place.

Mallory Redmond embraces anomalies–she is an adventure-loving homebody who keeps a clean house yet always makes a mess while eating or brushing her teeth. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. Mallory and her husband, Darren, live in Ohio with their beagle, Roger, and daughter, Evelyn. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.