My throat tightens as I write this.
A year ago today I drove north on Roadrunner Parkway to US70, across the desert through White Sands, picked up 54 north in Alamagordo toward Santa Rosa and I40. I made that trip several times over seven years, but this time I was leaving home.
Check that. Heading home, to Indiana.
I’ve left home before – Girl Scout camp, that first airplane ride at 16 to LA, college. I left home when I got married and lived in other towns. But I think now I never really left home until I moved to New Mexico.
Before visiting Las Cruces in March 2003, I’d never heard of it. We were going to visit friends. “Show me again. Where is it?”
Just 45 minutes northwest of El Paso, Texas – but nothing like El Paso or Texas – at Interstates 10 and 25, sits the sweet little desert town Las Cruces. It’s 1,500 miles from northwest Indiana but light-years away in terms of geography, lifestyle and laid-back attitude, and arguably has some of the best Mexican food this side of the Rio.
For a half century (!) I’d lived in Illinois and Indiana and had no intention of leaving the Midwest. I was happily working, in a relationship, close enough to Chicago, family and Lake Michigan.
Then came a trip to visit Hoosiers transplanted in Las Cruces. I was surprised at the dry, stark contrast between the desert and the midwestern land of lush. Driving the area, I studied the desert terrain – so foreign, scruffy, rolling. “I could never live here,” I remember thinking.
Within 48 hours I was enchanted. I realized one of the reasons I loved Lake Michigan is not because it’s wet – although that dimension adds both character and endless hours of fun – but because it’s vast. As is the desert.
Being in the desert, like being on the shores of Lake Michigan, one senses space. If you allow yourself, you can feel the peaceful calm, feel one with nature, be.
“Any more lots for sale in your neighborhood?” I asked our friends before driving back to El Paso International. “One more,” they said.
In a month’s time I was a New Mexico land owner thinking I’d either move there or make money on the investment. I did both. Giving little forethought to either.
I lived in Las Cruces from April 2004 until August 2011 and fell in love with people, the culture. But I moved myself into the desert – literally, emotionally and spiritually. It took 50+ years to shed some ego, lock into a welcome spirituality, get real. Pardoning others and forgiving myself – sigh. Hard stuff. Awesome stuff. I had to go away to “do the work,” apparently not to Oz but to the Land of Enchantment.
New Mexico will forever be a part of me and I am grateful for that acquisition. I am sad as I write this – missing friends, the meals we shared over our tables, the songs we sang together.
What’s important here? Time in New Mexico was sad and joyful. But you can’t know one without the other.
What’s more? You can’t go home if you’re expecting everything to be the same. But if you have changed – if you’re lucky, for the better – then you can go back and see everything anew. And it’s good because you kinda know how to get around, and it’s cool because people sound like you and you know their families and their schools. “You went there? We beat you in basketball!”
People from other places may speak disparaging about Indiana. I feel sorry for them because they don’t know here. They can’t appreciate how good it feels to be back home again.
I can and I do.