It is around this time of the year — when temperatures plunge below zero, the wind bites at your face, and snow piles around the roads in towering muddy ramparts — when I consider my choice to remain in Chautauqua County, the land where I was born and raised.
In the Book of Exodus, Yahweh vows to Moses via a burning bush that he will deliver the Hebrews from their suffering and enslavement at the hands of the Egyptians, and guide them to the Promised Land, a place that was allegedly “flowing with milk and honey.” But it wasn’t filled with milk and honey — just dirt, rocks, trees and lots of scary pagan giants. It’s my theory that this Biblical story has pervaded our culture so subtly that it has caused a psychological phenomenon we’ll coin “The Promised Land Complex.”
It is simply this: when life grows difficult or tedious and we feel enslaved by our circumstances — a bad marriage, a bad job, a bad neighborhood, or low self-esteem — the idea pops into our heads that packing up and moving somewhere else will solve our problems. I’ll be the first to admit that I was struggling with a strong itch to hitch.
No doubt there are a number of problems faced by Chautauqua county for which moving is a perfectly valid solution. In a recent study, New York ranked No. 2 in states with the most people departing — bound for states with more sunshine, more jobs and less taxes. According to a recent study, 64 percent of moving services in New York were for outbound customers.
At 24, I’ve traveled my fair share. I’ve been to Capitol Hill and the Canadian wilderness. I have seen cathedrals’ spires pierce the setting sun in Florence, strode alone down the cobbled streets of Westendorf, thrown snowballs at the summit of the Alps in August. Geographical regions certainly vary in their anthro-geological flavors, and moving to a new place could very well open up new opportunities, fill your eyes and mind with new sighs and memories, and ultimately stave off your psychological problems for awhile. So see the world while you still can.
But there is also that old saying. “No matter where you go, there you are,” my mother once said to me. And, more often than not in my experience, it proves itself.
I saw many others in their early 20s shrug off this county like an old pair of boxers and venture off to states such as Colorado, Washington, or North Carolina. But for one reason or another — whether willingly or dragged kicking and screaming — they have all come back.
I remember reading “The Giver” by Lois Lowery in middle school. A boy named Jonas lives in a future community which is colorless and absent of all emotions, engineered thus in order to eliminate human conflict. Desiring freedom, Jonas runs away to a place rumored to be outside of the community, vaguely referred to as Elsewhere. But when the book ends, we learn that there is no sacred Elsewhere. Elsewhere is the same as here. Elsewhere is everywhere.
I’d like to bring in another popular cliche and put it on trial; is the grass ever really greener on the other side? Or did those kids who moved out of New York discover that what they were looking for is not there either, or perhaps whatever shadows they were running from have covered the entire world? I imagine their wanderlust was cured instantly the moment they walk outside and realize that the crumbling slums of their neighborhood look just as dismal and dangerous as those they left behind.
Personally, of the plethora of reasons I have to stay, there is one that stands out. I imagine that, upon embarking on my journey for whatever Promised Land in mind, I will become very aware of the friends and family I am leaving behind. In an effort to put myself somewhere where “the action happens,” I might ironically isolate myself. That would wring my heart dry.
There are other reasons to stay, too. New programs such as START-UP NY could potentially bring in jobs. Mayer De Blasio recently announced his intent to move forward with tax reforms. Within a decade, we could see the once-shuddered shacks of Jamestown alleyways open for business.
Or, if you’ve lost faith in political reform, you can always volunteer. There are plenty of opportunities in Jamestown to give your time and energy and make this community the place you wish to live. If you’re not working to solve the problem, don’t complain about it.
So if you, Most Nearest and Dearest Reader, have the thought of forsaking Chautauqua percolating in your brain, please consider carefully. There might be less snow, less taxes, less infuriating liberal policies wherever you are bound. You might even find yourself next to a pretty landmark. But with every luxury a place might flaunt, it will inevitably have its problems.
Ask yourself first if Chautauqua County — or wherever you find yourself in life — can’t be the Promised Land.