By Jason Menard
Why is it that in our attempts to find the best that life has to offer, we often ignore the most important aspect of our existence – our soul?
I’m referring to the underlying societal gravitational force that begets the Great Middle-Class Doughnut. No, I’m not referring to spreading waistlines. The insidious force to which I’m referring is the gravitational force that draws many of us to an inertial point somewhere between urban and rural life – the suburbs.
We have heard countless stories about how many of today’s rural dwellers are abandoning their environment and conglomerating towards urban environments. But, as our basic physics lessons taught us, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Just as people are being drawn to the cities, a significant number are being repelled from its core in search for a better life.
Just as the planets and satellites are held in their orbits by opposing fields of gravity, so do suburbanites congregate in a swath of land that’s not “downtown” but that’s certainly not to be considered as “The Boonies.” For many of us, our aspirations are to find that patch of land, in our quite community, with our fenced-in yard, 2.3 kids, and the family pet. It’s a good life and it’s certainly not to be begrudged for those that have chosen it – but there seems to be something missing.
But that same bourgeois magnetism that draws us to these areas is the same that confines us to the four walls of our home. We reject interaction with our neighbours, we travel to the same Big Box stores, to buy our same value-sized products to return quickly to our Home Depot-inspired family rooms to gather around the TV to watch television.
And I’m no different. My wife and I have often spoken as to where we’re going to settle, and the idea of a place that’s safe for the kids is first and foremost in our minds. But, in embracing the security and uniformity that the suburbs represent, are we denying our children the opportunity to experience the beating heart of the city they live in?
As long-time Montrealers who now live out-of-province, we are afforded the opportunity to visit the city on a regular basis and look at it with a perspective that enjoys both an insider view and an outsider’s freshness of sight. We’ve watches as our friends have spread to the far corners of the island and beyond, while other remain in a more central location.
And, at every available opportunity, I try to walk the streets of the city. While I’m instantly at home in the suburbs – a place that’s eerily reminiscent of my current city of residence, London, ON, it’s the vibrancy of the core that strikes me. The streets are painted with a variety of brushstrokes, each colour overlapping and crafting an image that’s stunning for its raw beauty.
I’m instantly transported into a world that I imagine existed in much the same manner a half-century ago. While the storefronts may change, the essential ebb and flow of the streets remain the same. From the people sitting on their balcony to the animated conversations on the street, the very soul of a city manifests itself in all its glory. Instead of radiating from a TV screen, life presents itself in live action, with each of us as an active participant.
What most of us forget is that the true soul of a city – the reason why we were drawn to a location in the first place, is at its heart. It’s not a coincidence that the music that moves us to our very souls comes from the inner city. Motown, the Liverpool-fueled British Invasion, the Mississippi Blues all come from experiences forged at the heart of a city. New York City, the symbolic pinnacle of success and dreams, is represented not by the commute from Connecticut, but rather the vibrancy and excitement that resides right on the paved streets of Manhattan.
Yet, what I may be most guilt of here is romanticizing. While I can appreciate this tapestry of life, I’m not privy to the hardships that go into weaving it on a day-to-day basis. The same sense of community that I romanticize is forged not from any sense of communal support, but rather out of necessity.
So that’s why, in every step of life, it’s important to appreciate what we have and where we have it. Although often vilified, the suburbs are not soulless. They are, in fact, a place where dreams are realized. And, while the sense of community may not be as prevalent, the essential bonds of family are as taut in the suburbs as they are in the city.
Whether you choose to experience the Great Middle-Class Doughnut or sample the fare from the city’s breadbasket, the most important thing is that you take a bite out of life and savour every moment.
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