Tuesday, July 08, 2008

life in a small town

It's a funny thing living in a small city - at once warm, friendly, comfortable and yet restrictive, frictional (yes, that is a word), awkward.

I remember when I first moved here, walking through the mall with a new friend. I could not believe how many people she knew. Every which way we turned she was bobbing her head in greeting, waving or calling out a cheerful hello. Coming from a large city where I might bump into one familiar face every week or two, I could only shake my head in wonder at her obvious popularity.

Of course now I know differently. After a few years of small city life I too walk down the street and bob my head every which way in greeting as I cross paths with friends and acquaintances from multiple social arenas. I doubt I would win any popularity contests, this is just life in a city populated by only a small pool of people. And it is nice - seeing people I know in the shops, supermarket, gym and park gives a wonderful sense of belonging. Warm, friendly, comfortable.

The down side is managing those fractious relationships that one finds everywhere there are people. In London they might have created barely more than a ripple - turn away from the heat of disagreement and thousands of people crowd around, fill the space, distract the mind from the hurt. Where I live now, turn around and you just might bump into the partner or best friend of the one with whom you exchanged words. Even more likely, you will spy them across the street when you least expect to. That is the way it goes. Restrictive, frictional, awkward!

My mind drifts back again to my arrival in this place. The mother of my 'popular' friend described what she considered to be an effective coping mechanism for life in a small town. "People have a lovely way of ignoring past altercations. When you bump into each other at the supermarket you smile blandly, exchange pleasantries and move on as if nothing untoward ever happened."

Being someone who values truth and honesty, I was horrified. Ignore the past? Pretend nothing happened? Exchange pleasantries despite failing to see eye to eye? How artificial! Dishonest! Almost criminal and certainly lacking in integrity! One should confront the issue, resolve it and always approach the supermarket with a clear conscience.

Ah the idealism. If only life were so simple.

Here I sit some years later able to recognise some issues are just not reconcilable. As I wade through the situation I spectacularly created in my workplace I cannot avoid meeting people I know at the butcher, the greengrocer, on the street corner. In truth even in London the issue might hang in the air, only there I could change course and walk towards a fresh relationship uncontaminated by disagreements. Here there is not so far to walk and it would not take long to run through every person in town in search of the perfectly peaceful friendship. So while I despise my disingenuous attitude, I too now reconcile where possible and where it is impossible, I ignore the issue, smile and exchange pleasantries. And if they choose to look away or pretend they do not see me - I will call out no greeting and make no effort to cultivate an artificial conversation. It's easier that way. More honest somehow. An acknowledgement all is not right and perhaps never will be. A concession to the truth we are all just broken people muddling our way through the best we can.

Perhaps my friend's mother was right. Pretending is the best way to survive life in a small town. Certainly it is the easiest.

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At 7:52 am, July 09, 2008, Blogger Robyn said...

So any outcome yet?? I don't know if I'm ready for small town life! Praying for you.

At 4:25 pm, July 10, 2008, Blogger Cherie said...

"A concession to the truth we are all just broken people muddling our way through the best we can."

This says it all.

Yes, playing nice-nice is the easiest....for awhile.

Hang in there, Cecily.

At 11:38 am, July 13, 2008, Blogger Sandy's Notes said...

Yes, muddling through. It's sometimes the best we can do! I believe that our bodies, or minds, will handle what ever needs to be handled when the time is right. Time allows healing of wounds, it doesn't let us forget, but it allows healing.

Hang in there, I too am hoping the best for you.

At 4:55 am, July 14, 2008, Blogger Mike S said...

Living in a very small town, you see ugliness rear its head at times. Ignoring the problem will be the easiest way to cope, but I find I much prefer the "Kill them with kindness" approach. I've yet to meet the person who can remain bitter when continually confronted by a cheerful and friendly 'opponent', for lack of a better term.

We're really small here (approx 4K folks and another 4K in our abutting town) and it's IMPOSSIBLE to avoid people. Most just use the old 'forgive, always...forget, never' method and those that refuse to become antagonists after the problem has been settled in some manner are most happy I think. Even an outcome not in your favor is a form of 'settling' a matter.

My personal guide is "if nobody gets hurt, loses something other than pride, and nobody dies, the matter is satisfactorily settled and it's time to move on." Holding angry thoughts and grudges injures mostly the holder. Unfair, yup, reality, also yes. Remember, "Time wounds all Heels." They'll be brought up short someday themselves. Just a matter of time.

At 4:58 am, July 14, 2008, Blogger Mike S said...

Old Indian appologizes for soapbox speech. I'll go be quiet now.


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