One thing that’s been consistent in much of my adult life is that I only really start to appreciate a place when I’m about to leave it. The last time I felt like this was when I was getting ready to move out of Brooklyn. The fog on the horizon thickens; I can no longer see further than a few months ahead. I have intimations of where my life is going but they are only rough shapes, half-remembered dreams. So I’m forced to focus on what’s immediate, and visible.
Last night my roommate and I had friends over for a backyard bonfire. N asked me what I’m going to miss the most about Detroit, other than my friends here. And to my own surprise, I said, “It’s the sense of possibility.”
For a lot of the time I’ve been here I’ve lamented at the things that were lacking when compared to places like New York. But I’ve come to understand that those same gaps are where a person or small group of people can make the most meaningful difference. If there’s something I want to exist here, and there are probably enough other people here who want it too, then I wouldn’t just be helping myself, I’d be contributing to the place I lived. It’s the meeting of a person’s abilities with a community’s needs. It’s giving up the mindset that someone else should do it for you, or that you need permission from a higher authority – particularly when these higher authorities have failed you again and again. I understand this now, viscerally. It’s the Detroiter mentality.
Maybe this is true for small towns and the biggest cities too. And maybe a lot of this is coming from where I am in my life right now. But I do believe that cities have their own life cycles, too, and Detroit has not yet matured. As I’m about to leave here, for a few months, it occurs to me that maybe the moment in time when where we are in our lives matches where a city (or town or place) is in its life – maybe that’s the moment we’re home.