Comfort Zones and Common Ground


January 17, 2012, Washington, DC: Nevermind how you feel about the suburbs versus the city or small town New England versus the ranch land of the west. There’s no denying that the pull of place, whatever your preference, is a force to be reckoned with. Certain places evoke a physical and emotional reaction from each of us. Some places sweep us off our feet. Some make us sweat. One person’s comfort zone provokes another person’s anxiety. How fortunate we are to have such varied landscapes and lifestyles available to choose from. But are we predisposed to gravitate towards any one type of place? Does it depend on how and where and when we were raised? Is it in our genes? Does our penchant for a certain setting take shape later on as adults? Do our preferences continue to shift as we enter and exit various stages of our lives?

Questions like these reemerged this weekend on a trip to the suburbs some 35 miles west of St. Louis off of Interstate 70. I remember I-70 from last time, driving east during a move from San Francisco to Chicago. The endless plains of Kansas rattled my nerves.

Cities I can do. I know how to read their pace and fall into step with their residents. Small mountain and beach towns speak to me, too; I unconsciously slow and feel the draw of my natural surroundings. It's those seemingly uncomplicated and peaceful suburbs in between that throw me off. Typically somewhat of a chameleon, here I am a fish out of water.

And yet this weekend off I-70, something fascinating happens. I pull up to the curb. I park the car and walk into a lively home full of family. It is a home full of my family. In a setting unlike anywhere I've lived and likely never will, I am embraced by relatives who live there and love it there and make sure I feel at home. In leaving my comfort zone, I've entered theirs, and there in the suburbs of St. Louis, we inevitably find common ground.

Where do you most feel like yourself? How much does your family play a role in shaping your preference for place and anchoring you in your surroundings? Which landscapes are farthest from your comfort zone?