A couple of weekends ago, I made the drive back to Macomb, Illinois, home of Western Illinois University where I recently graduated with my master’s degree from the College Student Personnel Program. They were bringing candidates to town to interview for the program, and I was invited to participate in a panel of alumni to speak about my experience in the program.
I hadn’t been out of Lincoln since the holidays, and for me, that’s an awfully long time to stay in once place. I’d been feeling restless and listless for some time, thanks in large part to constant academic probation meetings, and the misery that is a Midwestern winter. Funny how once the holidays end snow becomes considerably less magical. I’ve been lonely, truth be told, and kind of depressed.
This was the second time I returned to Macomb since moving to Lincoln. The first time was over the summer when I had the happy job of cleaning my old apartment—a homecoming experience you can read about here. But this trip was dramatically different, and I’m still trying to piece together why.
Though there were several people to see and talk to in town, I spent most of the weekend on my own. I was able to connect with some friends still in the program, but for various grad school reasons couldn’t see as many people as I’d hoped to. Really very understandable, having been a graduate student myself. Regardless, I found just as much value in being alone with Macomb as I did catching up with friends.
Macomb is a relatively small, rural town. It’s devoid of amenities of suburbs and cities, but that doesn’t mean the quality of life there can’t be just as good. When I lived there and had the opportunity to leave town, I found myself running toward fancy things like Target or Panera Bread (or both if I wanted to make a day of it in Peoria!). Sometimes it was difficult to be without those things and other amenities I had the privilege of having access to for most of my life. But once I returned, I found that what I wanted the most was to sit in the soft, brown leather arm chair in the corner of the Old Dairy while munching on the world’s best buttered toast and watch the folks of Macomb come and go. I wanted to go to the HyVee in town and see the man that works there who looks exactly like Jimmy Fallon (whose name is, amazingly, Jimmy) and eat French toast on Sunday morning while writing and watching church-goers and farm families that are all somehow related bump into each other unexpectedly and proceed to talk about the weather. I wanted to meander the town square, chat with the older gentleman in the dark silver truck that would stop me as he delivered newspapers every morning on my ritualistic walk just to exchange friendly small talk, spy the large herd of deer that often prance through town.
The things I wanted the most were those things so specific to Macomb and what made it special to me. Targets are everywhere, but these things are only in Macomb, and that matters.
What I felt when I was there was a reconnection to my immediate past community. I seem to mention this a lot in my blog (and in my personal journal, and in my conversations with other people… and a million other places)—how much community matters. I wrote once that community is hard to find, and I’d like to revisit that idea. I don’t think it’s hard to find. I actually think it’s impossible to find. Because it’s not about finding it, it’s about building it.
It takes work. And time. And patience.
What I had in Macomb and what I was able to reconnect to in the few short hours I spent there, both in terms of the physical town and my fellow CSPeople, didn’t just sprout out of the ground overnight after I moved there. It needed to be cultivated and cared for to become all that it is and all that it means to me.
I’m feeling tired here. I love, love, love what I do and who I do it with and for, but work is my entire life in Lincoln. I don’t have any other local community. My immediate community is made of other people who have different immediate communities, and that’s extremely difficult. It’s exhausting to try so hard. It’s hard to know where to look to find what I need. It can be discouraging at times. And weird to feel happy and discouraged simultaneously.
But I’m feeling refreshed and renewed since my trip. Because in addition to being able to reflect on the idea of community, while physically being in mine again, it gave me an opportunity to reflect on the education I received during the program. During the panel event itself, I was able to see other former students again and listen to them share their thoughts as they look back on their time in the program, and I had the opportunity to articulate to candidates what I took away from my time there.
I’ve been bogged down at work with things and I’ve gotten wrapped up in some of the minutiae too much. I will admit I lost sight of who I am as a professional, what I believe, and what I stand for. My practice felt robotic, almost. Not that I wasn’t genuine, but not as thorough or thoughtful as I would have liked to be. But this made me reconnect to all that I’ve learned and all that I know that I am.
The entire experience was a booster shot for my morale, my practice, and my overall mental and emotional health. Maybe I’ll have to schedule a visit every 8 months…
> BONUS <
Podcast with Craig Bidiman on Supporting #SAGrad Success