Yes, somewhere. And, anywhere.
How to both respect where we come from while being open to where we are going.
Looking up at a host of bright stars against a pitch black sky, my nostrils fill with the scent of nearly harvest-ready corn and mature alfalfa pasture as my soul fills with peace. I hear crickets like they’re on stereo speakers and I feel the dampness on my feet as I step onto the grassy lawn. I love this place.
Scanning the horizon, I see a haziness over lonely mountains rising out of an otherwise flat brown expanse of sand and rock; some would say it’s desolate, but I find it inexplicably profound because of its emptiness. I sense the dryness in the air, and, rounding a corner, spot a deep green valley of pecan trees ahead. I love this place.
Stepping outside the ice cream shop, I’m hit with a wave of sticky, oppressive humidity; yet, I’m enchanted by the miles of blue- and green-tinted mountains surrounding me. As I finish off my black raspberry waffle cone, I can’t help but notice the people here are about as sweet as the ice cream. I love this place.
Do you love the place where you grew up? Or do you find yourself enamored with new places? For most of my life, I took for granted the area where my roots began; I was obsessed with anything, anyone, and anywhere new. I still am. Yet, on my last visit home, I realized it’s possible to love both the place I’m from and the places I’m going.
There’s a concept of “Somewhere” vs. “Anywhere” people which I find fascinating. Emphasized in a book by David Goodhart, but discussed in many other circles, this idea seeks to understand people by the location in which they find their identity. “Somewhere” people are tied to their current location and its community. They don’t necessarily live where they do because it’s popular or beautiful; it holds deeper meaning because of the other people who live there or their family’s legacy in that place. “Anywhere” people, on the other hand, tie their identity more to their achievements and even their own tendency to move around a lot. They choose where to live based on an area’s potential for connections, new experiences, and aesthetics.
For the last seven years or so, since I began high school, I have acted like an Anywhere person; of all my future plans, the most concrete has always been to move out of Illinois once I’m finished with college. I knew, intellectually, why people would choose to stay, but I didn’t relate emotionally to their sentiments until I visited my hometown after three months of travel, everywhere from South Dakota to Georgia, from Washington, D.C. to Kansas. Now, I want to be a little bit of both a Somewhere and an Anywhere person.
Respect for the Somewhere
Our Somewhere places hold meaning. Visiting home, my mother and I went through some old newspaper clippings saved from our family’s history. One of those was a notice of my great-grandfather’s purchase of a parcel of land: land which would help build my family’s farm to what it is now. Even more meaningful, though, was an interview with the man himself, Paul Budach, published later.
“That was a nice piece you put in the paper last week,” he said, “...but you forgot one thing—you didn’t say anything about the help of the wife and daughter. They have worked hard all these years, and are entitled to their share of anything good that may be said about our success and about our home.”
My great-grandfather didn’t simply respect the land he bought, but each person who played a role in the purchase. His parents immigrated from Germany in the mid-1800’s, and they had worked their way to purchasing farm ground to continue to build an abundant life not simply for themselves but for future generations. As I reflect on the many times I’ve told people I am “just bored of flat cornfields everywhere,” I’m ashamed. It’s not just cornfields; it’s a sign of fertile soil that has been passed down for generations and potential for continued abundance into the future if we steward it well. Even though my own family’s farm is more diversified than most other fields in the area—you can spot anything from cattle grazing to sunflowers blooming to fall cover crops popping up, depending on when you drive by—I was still bored of it because I was used to it.
Instead of being bored of the things I’ve grown accustomed to, I want to value them for what they’ve done for me. The parcel of land I grew up on gave me countless moments of joy as a kid, running and playing and napping in the sunshine. It gave me meaningful work to do, teaching me labor is hard but it’s worth doing, and worth doing with a pleasant attitude. It’s where I grew close to my family, I learned to mourn loss yet keep moving, and I earned the resources to move out and attend college. The place I took for granted was the very place that gave me the freedom to leave it. This in and of itself seems worthy of respect.
Where is your Somewhere? Maybe it’s where you were born. Maybe it’s a place you lived during the most formative years of your life. How do you respect it? It’s different for everyone. For me, it looks like visiting when I can and spending time back out on the land and with my family. It’s learning more about the history that made our family who and what we are. It’s sharing stories that will mean something to those who listen. It may be as simple as giving credit to it when people ask how I’ve become who I am.
Openness to the Anywhere
The Anywhere places teach us new things. Last summer, I found myself marveling at the landscape of west central Idaho when on a road trip to visit some friends. As we drove past ten different crops in just as many miles, Caleb patiently explained each one. I had never seen so many types of agriculture in one area before. As I started to ask about cover crops, the stark contrast between Midwestern and Northwestern agriculture became even more apparent. The need for irrigation is a massive barrier to growing cover crops in Caleb’s area yet it had never crossed my mind until I saw it with my own eyes.
The new places we go give us a more complete picture of the world as it truly is. A more complete picture of the world allows us to better understand people. Better understanding people allows us to better serve them.
“We all come from a corner of the world. It doesn’t matter which corner of the world you come from; a corner is a corner.” - Andy Stanley
Regardless of whether we grew up on a farm, in a small town, in a suburb, or in a city center, we each have a corner of the world we’re familiar with and many more corners about which we know very little, if anything. Traveling is a meaningful way to learn more about those corners; yet, simply being well-traveled doesn’t automatically make one more open to understanding others. We must choose to be so. With an openness to learn more about how other people think and what they value, we can travel and build relationships (in person or otherwise) in a way which makes an Anywhere perspective useful.
I do love traveling, but not as much as I love the relationships I’ve been given as a result. Maintaining those friendships even when we don’t see each other for months, even years, gives me an even deeper understanding of the Anywhere than visiting the physical place. What does it look like for you to be open to new places and the people who occupy them?
Places have purpose.
Being open to the Anywhere doesn’t mean disregarding or downplaying our roots, nor looking down at those who prefer their Somewhere. Instead, it’s recognizing that what may be new to us is an ingrained tradition for someone else, and what may seem insignificant to us may be deeply meaningful to another. Respecting our Somewhere doesn’t require us to put down others’ roots; it should give us greater understanding for the people around us because we, too, know what it’s like to love a place simply because it’s the one we know best.
The starry night sky, the desert mountain range, and the humid, tree-filled horizon are all places I love. One, I grew up in. That’s why I love it. The other two, I met for the first time recently. That’s why I love them. Even with my newfound appreciation for the Somewhere, I still hope to visit many new Anywheres in my future. I’d like to live in some of those new places. When you think about it, I suppose anywhere can be somewhere, after all.
Are you more of a Somewhere person or an Anywhere person? What does it mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below or tag me on social media at @nffaevp and @miriamrosah and use the hashtags #EmbracingComplexity and #FFA21.
If you’re curious… there are many angles from which to analyze Somewhere vs. Anywhere people; I’ve referred to the concept here in the way I find most helpful. If you want to learn more, check out this podcast interview for an in-depth conversation with Goodhart himself. Let me know your take on it after listening!