Day breaks. The sun’s first light emerges from behind a shadowed tree line and ascends upward, shedding its radiant golden glow across a boundless sea of maize. A faraway rooster crows, the sound twisted by a spirited breeze that carries it freely for miles.
Safety. Seclusion. Familiar faces with familiar names. Idyllic, it would seem, to grow up in an environment where strangers don’t exist; in a small, close-knit community consisting simply of family farms and locally owned businesses. There, two lonely stoplights, a barbershop, a gas station, a bar, and a school are the only buildings in sight. Beyond these landmarks, the acres of rural countryside stretch on endlessly. Ideal, one would think, to live in a place void of the problems commonly found in large cities, such as high crime rates and heavy traffic. A place where the definition of a traffic jam consists of a few cars backed up behind a slow moving tractor. Where teenagers insist they can’t wait to leave, but never do, and where those who do leave eventually come back and settle down.
Small town America. Once, it was home to me.
My world had been a world where confederate flags were proudly displayed from the backs of pickup trucks. Where gossip and rumors spread faster than the speed of light. Where differences were frowned upon instead of accepted. Where a teacher could be fired for their sexual orientation and Martin Luther King Jr. Day went unrecognized. It seemed to be a safe world, yes. But a suffocating one. And that made it dangerous.
When one place is all you’ve ever known, you become comfortable with the familiar. Fear of the unknown creeps into your thoughts and convinces you that you want to stay, succumbing to the predictable pattern of generations before you.
Don’t let it.
One night when I was in high school, I found myself looking up at the star covered sky and wondered how anyone could live in a big city, lacking the ability to lay down on a clear night and gaze at the shimmering constellations. It was a simple luxury, but a magnificent one. Moments like that brought me peace whenever life became too hectic and confusing. It always took my breath away to rediscover how truly small I was in the whole scheme of things. My town, I realized, was just one of those tiny stars. When you’re there, it seems enormous. It appears to be the center of the universe while everything else is distant and irrelevant.
However, upon stepping back and looking around at the greater picture, it is clear how many millions of other stars and celestial bodies are out there existing simultaneously, each one an opportunity waiting to be seized.
My town had been my home. It had been good to me, and I would always carry a piece of it inside of me.
But one place would never define me. It would never influence my ideals. It would not trap me or inhibit me from expanding my horizons. My hometown was my past, but my future lies on another star, somewhere out there in the vast expanse of the universe.
Yours does too.