My favorite view of Morgantown is the short, but spectacular glimpse I get of the whole town spread out on the hillside as I round the curve on Monongahela Boulevard coming down from the Coliseum to Morgantown proper. The mood changes depending on the season and weather, but I never fail to appreciate the raw beauty of this place.
Last Saturday, as I drove the familiar route for my weekly library visit, I was struck by a sense of sadness as the town came into view. Perhaps it was the heavy clouds that hovered above the town, spitting snow every now and then, but the town looked beautifully sad to me, and I felt suddenly nostalgic. My time here is coming to a close in four months, and even though we’ve lived here less than two years, there is a sense of familiarity in this place. Leaving feels like a break-up. Not an ugly break up, just a parting of ways. A relationship that didn’t quite work out.
Sure, there are things that are far from perfect here. Some of my uncomfortable early impressions have held true, like the income disparity that is so obvious as you drive through neighborhoods, or the troubling appropriation in the high school logo, mascot, and band, or the dangerous party atmosphere. But there is also a grittiness here that is beautiful in its harshness. There is a sense of pride of place in those who live here and a comfortable casualness of attitude. There is a sense of tenacity to this city built on hillsides with neighborhoods connected by narrow streets that wind unpredictably back and forth. I can feel the connection the city still holds to its wild roots. I identify with and appreciate its marriage of rural and urban, the in-betweenness of this place. It speaks to my own history, that farm girl whose childhood was spent on 80 acres of wild, but who grew up to appreciate being near to the bustle of community. It is one answer to the question of where I find home.
And so, I recognize that with time I could probably have learned to really love this place. But instead of exploring that, I am now tasked with the job of moving on, letting go, leaving well. Two years ago, when I got my first glimpse of Morgantown as we explored the possibility of moving here, I remember waking up in our hotel and looking out over the hillsides covered with drizzly fog. It reminded me of Germany, which was perhaps the hardest place for us to leave. That morning I had hope that this place would become home. Now that I know it can no longer be that, I wonder how I will look back on this time. Unfortunately, both because we have been unable to choose housing that felt like it fit us and because of the pandemic, everything has felt very temporary. Even relationships with people have been tough due to the pandemic. We had just gotten started and then everything was kind of put on hold. It’s felt like a pause, which in many ways is very unfortunate because I think perhaps this place and these people deserved more than that. Maybe eventually I can look back on our time here and see more than that. I hope so.
For now we focus on what is next. If moving away from a church and a location are like breaking up, job searching for a new parish is kind of like trying to find a match on a dating site. We read profiles and google locations and look at housing prices and wonder which might be a good fit. We get excited about possibilities yet always feel the threat of rejection in every interaction. And it is all complicated by the fact that our livelihood depends on finding a successful match. It’s an incredibly uncomfortable time full of unknowns, worries, and fear. Yet it also holds incredible moments of hope. And for John and I, there is also a sense of closeness as we recognize that no matter where we go, we go together. This time may not be easy, but it is powerful.