Every good UNC grad knows that Thomas Wolfe (UNC 1920) said that you can’t go home again. Lucky for me, he was wrong in this case.
This weekend I returned to my adopted home for the first time since coming to Darden. I grew up in North Carolina but spent the last five years of my life living and working in West Palm Beach, Fla. In some many ways, these were some of my most formative years. I was out on my own for the first time, navigating a journalism career, relationships, friendships and a new city. It was Mary Tyler Moore with palm trees.
Perhaps that’s why West Palm Beach feels more like home now than North Carolina. True home will always be where my family resides, but West Palm Beach is the place I know best, the city I can rightfully claim as mine.
All that said, I was ready to leave when I departed for Darden this past summer. I left at a low point, a period of professional stagnation and personal difficulty. I simply felt I’d outgrown the opportunities South Florida could provide me and was itching for a new challenge. Saying goodbye to my friends was hard, but I felt many of them were moving on with new and different lives too. And abandoning Florida in the stifling heat of July was very easy.
So it shocked me a little when I touched down in West Palm Beach on Thursday night and felt a rush of excitement. I could pick out my old neighborhood from the plane window. When the clerk at the car rental office asked if I needed directions, it felt good to say, “No way.” And driving down the sunny, palm-lined Intracoastal plastered a goofy smile on my face. I missed this place!
And my friends … Let’s just say returning to a place where people know me to my core was refreshing. These are the people I grew up with, the ones who helped me develop into a grown up.
But first, you have to understand about Saturday night. I was in town for my dear friend Leslie’s wedding (read the NYT wedding announcement here) and Saturday night was the bridal shower. I watched Leslie surrounded by 15 women and 1 man who she’d known in all stages of her life. There was her twin sister, her childhood friend, a college roommate, friends from her first “real” job and then those of us who knew her in West Palm Beach.
We all donned pink plastic tiaras, raised glasses of champagne and spent two hours telling stories about our friendships with Leslie and each other, the memories we carry with us when we’re apart. Looking around that room I was amazed by all the good friends Leslie had collected and kept close during her 38 years.
And it reminded me of something.
I can’t completely give in to the busyness and excitement of Darden and my new life. While I love the challenges and the new people I’m meeting, it’s so important to nurture my wonderful existing friendships, the women and men I hope to still be calling up 20 years from now, the ones who know me completely, the ones who will don a pink plastic tiara if I ask them nicely.