Is the Grass Always Greener?

It’s a little ironic to write about rural life—Jewish or not Jewish—as this week, I’m writing from Washington, DC. I’m eating amazing brioche with apples at Patisserie Poupon and watching the diverse parade of people. A young couple with their tiny two-week-old baby. And elderly woman with beautiful white hair sipping espresso with a short elderly man with an amputated leg. A young man with at least sixteen pierces reading philosophy. (Really…no lie.)

Over the last few days, I’ve walked from Dupont Circle to Georgetown, through the Mall and around town. No one knows me. No one stops me on the street. My hair, suffering the effects of increased humidity and a not-great night of sleep, has been a mess, but no one has noticed.

It’s not just diversity I miss.
It’s anonymity—it is easy to disappear in the city.

In New Hampshire, there is no such thing as anonymity. If this café was in my town, I would have spoken to all the other coffee drinkers. In my rural community, when I walk down the street/write on my laptop/shop for shoes, people recognize me. They say hello. And if they don’t, they introduce themselves.

In a small town, everyone knows when you’re having a bad day. Once, after scolding my daughter in the market, there were three messages on my machine:

Sarah, I heard you were having a bad day. Can I help?
Sarah, I heard from D and she said you looked pretty upset.
Sarah, this is your mother. Please call.
(Well, that message comes all the time, no matter where I live!)

Anonymity is one of the things you give up when you enter a rural community (along with great Chinese food and the opportunity to wear all my high-heeled shoes). When you live in a small town, you give up the ability to disappear, to run your errands without interruption, to have a bad day unnoticed.

But you also never celebrate or deal with any of those bad days alone.

–Sarah Aronson