Right now, I'm in Pittsburgh. I'm studying at Carnegie Mellon. I'm staying in a real-person apartment with real-person rent.
I live within walking distance of a grocery store. Several, even (I've figured out which stuff is cheaper at Whole Foods, which I didn't know was a thing that could happen). There are multiple bars within walking distance as well, and I take public transit to get to campus.
For four years, these menial features of life escaped me. I was an undergraduate engineer at Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute, Indiana. My 2004 Camry was my vessel into the rest of the world. Rose-Hulman's campus was roughly 4 miles from grocery stores and even further from bars. Non-residential parts of Terre Haute were somewhat alien to the student body. Yes, people lived off-campus, but they often were burglarized. I didn't feel like dealing with the paperwork.
But why do I miss it?
I spent four years excited for the day that I didn't have to call southern Indiana my home. I loved my undergraduate education. The people were amazing. But the town...the decrepit, semi-abandoned, crime-ridden town we called home was the opposite of luxurious and often-times frightening. There wasn't even a Chipotle. We had to drive to Indianapolis to go to Chipotle.
It never occurred to me that I would feel sentiment for Terre Haute. Though as with many great life experiences, I can pinpoint the exact moment I became amorous of that life.
In November 2011, I went to Bloomington to take the GRE. It was 8 hours of sinus headaches and standardized tests, and I wanted to drive back and clear my head of obnoxious vocabulary and contrived essays about polluted rivers. The sun was setting, and the Advil for my headache was kicking in. I hit a stretch of open plains about half-way through. Dangerously, I turned to my left.
I'd seen sunsets before. Many sunsets. But none like this.
After a month of studying like a madman for test that was maybe going to get me into grad school, after rejection letter after rejection letter from company after company, after relentless self-doubt and questions about the future, I had found a peaceful moment.
I pulled onto a country road, got out, and sat on the hood of my car until the sun set. I had never done that before; deliberately watching something in nature with no expectations. 21 years of living in Chicago and I had completely missed the point of watching a sunset.
The serenity of the empty, flat land; the quietness of the wind; the glow of the horizon over the trees. I'm not a very spiritual person, but all the neurons that make people spiritually warm and tickly were getting me all warm and tickly. There was a happiness to these moments that urban life never brought me.
Now, when I look back at my time in Indiana, I see the homely people of Terre Haute that were as disgusted with the crime and misanthropic behaviors of their citizens. I see the man at Lowe's that stopped me from buying a bracket that could have killed me if I had used it to build my lofted bed. I see Mary, the Rose-Hulman receptionist, leaving metric tons of Christmas cookies for us all to enjoy. In some odd way, I began to love each and every one of them. Love in the same way that I loved that sunset, the breeze, and the plains below.