I live in New York City, and have for 10 years. I lived in North Dakota, my home state, for 25. To me, these are mundane facts. But given the stunned reaction when I tell North Dakotans that I now live in NYC or when I tell New Yorkers that I am from N.D., most of you find me just slightly less perplexing than a Martian.
If you have only lived in populous coastal cities, you wonder how I got to New York, what made me want to come, how I made it there. (Answer: Lots of work; lots of luck; p.s. I’m not stupid.) If you live in a rural area, you wonder how I can live on top of people, how I deal with the noise, the smells, the prices, why I would want to live there. (Answer: I got used to it; I find the engagement of the city worth the costs.)
What I have learned is that, at their hearts, the two places are not that different.
These three commonalities are what draws me to each:
- They cherish their history. In NYC, we pride ourselves in the immigrant story, the Great White Way, the power of Wall Street, the talent we draw from around the world. In N.D., we pride ourselves in the homesteaders and the natives, the reach of our agriculture and energy, our strong society, the upstanding young people we raise. History remains so important in both places because to make it in either place — especially during a time with fewer creature comforts — you had to be pretty darn tough. Most of us are descended from those tough characters or are pretty tough ourselves. Our families made it, and we made it. To celebrate that, we have to remember the past.
- They take care of their own. Being generous to neighbors is part of being a North Dakotan. Every farm child has witnessed her father, brother or grandfather leaving the comforts of a warm home to pull a stranger’s car from a snowbank on a blustery night. However, it may come as a surprise to those of you who have not lived in New York, that very much the same happens here. In times of trouble, New Yorkers pull together. Anyone who lived here after 9/11 will recall total strangers holding each other in the middle of the street. Strangers jump onto subway tracks to pull up a disoriented fellow traveler. Passers-by wait for an ambulance with an ill person they’ve never met before.
- They put you in your place. As mentioned earlier, you have to be tough to make it in either place. If you are not quite up to snuff, expect to be spit out. In North Dakota, it’s the climate that lets you know who’s boss. With temperatures that range 150 degrees from dead of winter to heat of summer, North Dakota is not for the faint of heart. It will kick your butt if you show any signs of stupidity, such as a casual January drive without a winter survival kit. While no weather slouch itself, New York’s toughness comes mostly from the masses of people who come through it — and the fact that there’s always someone more talented than you around the corner. There is no downtime in NYC if you want to be on top. But you just might find that you’re comfortable being yourself even if you’re not king of the heap, A-No.-1.
In short, I love both places. I don’t find that odd.
I recognize in the city the same generosity that exists in my rural roots — flowers and food left on one’s doorstep in times of illness, offers to help with a new baby, small gifts to welcome new neighbors to their apartment. I have been the fortunate recipient of all of these, and it’s part of why the big city that is now my home doesn’t seem so far from my rural roots.