Reading David Brooks’s The New York Times column had me reflecting on several things yesterday. He points out the social isolation we can develop through over-reliance on digital communication and connection, and how loneliness has adverse effects on our health. Last June, my husband and I left our home of nine years, Birmingham, Alabama, and moved north to Columbus. Isolation and loneliness have been intimate acquaintances over the past 10 months, and I think I’ve learned a few lessons.
Always say hello. While I was looking for full-time work, I took a part time retail sales job - the first ever in my life. Y’all. Talk about eye-opening. Asking “How can I help you?” and saying “Hello!” were part of the job description, and for this introvert those phrases were painful, at first. But boy did I quickly learn their true value. I talked with farmers, local business owners and fellow Southerners (the US of A is a small place, y’all). It was the fast-track to learning the Columbus community.
On the flip-side, those customers who refused to look at me or look me in the eyes, taught me what it feels to be invisible, and I had some intense self-reflection after the first time that happened, including “How do I treat workers in shops and restaurants and other customer-service-y roles?,” “What makes my presence so unworthy of acknowledgement?,” and “Maybe if I made the first ‘Hello’ in my life outside the store, I’d make more connections in my new city.” I’ve always been in awe of gregarious, charismatic people; thinking I could never be that person. In reality, I think we all just want someone else to make the first move, and taking my own advice has removed some social self-consciousness when meeting new people.
Stop with the FOMO, already. Part of me wishes I had taken a social media hiatus after moving, or maybe hidden the Facebook threads from Birmingham. The constant access I had to knowing what was happening in Birmingham with my friends and favorite places - sans me - made my homesickness more acute, and made exploring my new city more of a chore than a new adventure. So, do yourself a favor and curb that social media habit if you find yourself feeling a little more cynical and lonely. My preferred haunt during warm weather was hanging with my fellow canine lovers at Scioto Audobon's dog park (I’m dreaming of a streak of daily visits once the weather decides to warm up.). Currently,I’ve got Sunday yoga and nonstop coffee here at Hopewell, and, Columbus Underground’s Mega Weekend newsletter and 614’s The Lineup page keep me in the know on local events.
Be Thankful. TBH, I faked till I made it being happy here in Columbus...and maybe I still fake it sometimes because I lived through college and young adulthood in one place grows some DEEP roots, y’all. BUT, talking about the cool things Columbus has going for it definitely helped my appreciation for the city grow. A city that invested so much in public space is new for me - so many public parks and dog parks and public art installations has been a joy to explore! The Arts Festival, Columbus Pride and the Jazz and Ribs festival were definite highlights that will become traditions for me. Last but not least, meeting the interesting entrepreneurs, startup gurus, creatives, remote workers and second career starters walking through Hopewell’s front door each day has shown me a vibrant side of Columbus I had no clue existed. So, I count my blessings each day, because being appreciative of this city helps me feel more connected.