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Commentary: Roots

By Dawn McMullan, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

On each of my son's first birthdays, my husband and I planted a tree in our front yard. I took a picture of each one of them, standing by their tree. I assume that when they are 20 years old, visiting home from whatever college they choose, that I will take another picture, marveling at how tall boys and trees have grown. I plan to watch their children climb those trees.

I never thought I would plant such roots in Dallas. I moved to the area when I was one, never straying too far away except for a five-year stint in Florida and a backpacking trip through Europe. Love brought me back a little more than a decade ago, yet every vacation found me plotting ways to move. Back to Florida. To Colorado. Minneapolis. Syracuse. Vancouver.

Last summer, my husband called from a business trip, announcing he'd been offered a promotion in Richmond. The words "absolutely not" fell out of my mouth like a baby's first taste of peas. In an instant, my searching for a home was over.

I wasn't leaving the only house my 8-year-old remembered. I wasn't leaving the bedroom in which I labored with my 5-year-old. I wasn't leaving their perfect school, our friends or family. I wasn't leaving our church, where I'd questioned my every belief in various formats, including the Starbucks Sunday school I have most weeks with two dear friends friends who have just announced they are pulling up roots and moving.

We met Craig and Monty in a bible study class. It was friends at first sight for me, and my husband chuckled to himself each time I contrived a way for us to get closer to them. Within two years, they were our children's godparents. Soon, they will be four hours away as they start their new lives in Houston.

My reaction to this has shocked me as much as my reaction to the Richmond possibility. It has gone through the same motions as a friendly yet tragic breakup. At first, I couldn't think about it without crying. Then I eased into being able to see them and crying just a bit. The self-involved phase. The denial phase. The seeking-of-sad-songs-to-cry-along-with phase.

The angry phase involved a Google search about our mobile society. Unfortunately, I couldn't even blame it on a new trend. Apparently, Americans are moving less today than we did in the '50s. Just 14 percent of us moved in 2003. Between 1991 and 2003, only 3.2 percent of us moved to another state, down 3.6 percent from the time between 1948 and 1959.

Maybe more of us are finding roots. For the first time in my 38 years, I realized I've created them without knowing it. And my roots are grounded in the people and institutions around me. How dare my dear friends not stay imbedded with me.

We will, of course, find a way. But our friendships will change. Two of my closest friends live in New York. One had a baby last week. One's mother is quite possibly dying of cancer. A call, an email, a card none are the same as being there. Friendship is like a house. An abandoned house simply starts to fall apart as no one is there to care for the small cracks as they happen. A lived-in home, however, is cared for simply by the presence of the people inside. One must be present to grow a friendship. That presence is easy at Starbucks Sunday school; certainly possible yet more difficult from Houston or New York.

They, of course, are only the first of many friends, family members, even children, who eventually will stray from my immediate space now that I have claimed it. In the meantime, our roots just keep growing deeper and wider, now stretching all the way to Houston.

Dawn McMullan is a writer from Dallas.

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