Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Summer in the City

I live not in the heart of the city but rather an inner ring suburb – relatively close to the downtowns and yet with a lawn that contains a few trees beside a small lake that’s more accurately described as a pond. In the right light and with the blinds partially closed it provides the illusion of being away from the city.

This illusion of separation keeps me reasonably happy. I get to pretend that I live on a lake even as I partake of all the city has to offer. I’m close enough to the action that I don’t have to drive hours to get where I need to be. I have friends and relatives who live a good distance away and I see them only a few times a year.

The country offers its own delights, of course – primarily a slow pace that’s excellent for meditation and thoughtful analysis of complicated questions. With time, provided one is correctly motivated to study an issue, one can eventually discern most truths.

Winter may be the best time to live out in the country. Yes, you can get snowed in here in the upper Midwest, but if you plan accordingly, you needn’t worry about starving or freezing. You just sit back and enjoy the solitude. The world seems to drop away, leaving you in your own quiet world.

But in summer, with festivals, events, and friends seemingly always going somewhere or doing something, it’s better to be in close. The city feels alive, the susurration of traffic and the hum of machinery providing a background, the rhythmic rise and fall of pedestrians surging in morning and evening, the tangy bitterness of burning gasoline commingling with cooked onions and garlic, the aroma of fresh-baked bread inducing a heady euphoria.

There’s an energy to the city that you can’t find in the country, a combination of movement and potentiality, the possibility that at any moment something truly amazing might happen, for good or ill, that rural communities seem incapable of delivering.

And yet, to be trapped in the city all the time would, to me, be unsettling after a while. Living without the opportunity for respite from its constancies would fatigue me. I need time to decompress, to recharge for the next day or week or month. A house in the suburbs fulfills that need.

The city hammers you. It demands attention in a way that the country doesn’t. It pushes and pulls, sometimes rudely, insistent on inserting itself into your frame of mind. The country, on the other hand, reclines on the porch with a glass of iced tea and a magazine that does not beg to be read.

The suburbs, at least the inner suburbs, offer tantalizing glimpses of both while actually providing neither. It is more illusion than reality. But isn’t that what life is? Illusion? Do we ever truly know anything or anyone?

We think we do, certainly. We make assumptions about the world and our peers but we are all wild animals capable of lashing out at any moment given the right circumstances. So I’m going to enjoy my illusion of summer in the city. I hope you enjoy whatever illusion you’re experiencing right now too.

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