Community (by flickr user Oatsy40,

One of the Greatest Gifts to Give

Over the course of my life, I have had the benefit of living in a lot of places. That has shown me how people all over the United States live differently from one another. Each area of the country has different ideas and different values. Still, one thing has rung true about each. A commonality between places that is deeper than a love for country or respect for a flag. Let me tell you about what I’ve discovered as I look back on a career that has taken me to so many different places and given me the gift of many people that I can call friend.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to move from my native Ohio, a place that I knew well. Ohio was and still is a quirky place, just different enough to leave it a must visit spot for any Presidential campaign. It’s the birthplace of football, rock and roll, and culinary delights like Chili 5-way. It also gave me my midwestern roots that still, to this day, inform my way of looking at the world. As I packed up a moving truck full of the things that you need in life, I knew that while I was leaving, a part of the place was going with me.

The first stop on a journey that took me to a variety of places was in the center of Michigan’s lower peninsula. When they use the phrase, “If you’re looking for a pleasant peninsula, look about you” they aren’t kidding. Michigan is a beautiful place full of friendly people that are only a little misguided during the college football season. After moving there and comparing notes with a fellow non-Michigander, we both had the same initial thought about Michigan, “Who wants to live there?” Of course, that thought comes from the misguided idea that Michigan is a cold, cold place. Some parts of it are, some aren’t. All in all, it’s a place that gives me a warm feeling when I think about the many people that we met and still call friend.

From there, we became Hoosiers. Mind you, I’ve lived in Indiana twice and still don’t have a clue what that is. No one here does, but that doesn’t seem to matter. The values that you’ll find in the Midwest are on full display here and there’s no doubt that the phrase “Hoosier Hospitality” means something to people. They care about family, faith and hard work. While you might sometime think that Indiana is nothing more than endless cornfields, the people of Indiana are a caring bunch. Some of our closest friends are from this state. When I think about the lessons learned alongside those that matter to us, times from one of our sojourns in the Hoosier state come to mind.

From Indiana, we had the opportunity to live in a place that was truly different. Louisiana afforded us closeness to the Gulf of Mexico and one of my favorite things, great food. A tour of the Tabasco plant is a must see when you go there and Beignets are a must in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Further, great Cajun food means a whole lot more than an overabundance of Cayenne pepper. The subtleties of Cajun cooking are not to be missed. Nor are the people, who live a very different life than what I was used to, but still had a warm place in their heart for anyone that chose to live alongside them. Friendship there was often found over a table full of food or sparkling conversation about any topic of the day and no topic out of bounds.

One of the briefest stops of my tour t-shirt of locations that I’ve lived is in East Tennessee. The mountains define this most beautiful place on earth and afford you the chance to look at natural beauty without even trying. Indeed, waking up and looking out a window to experience that mountain magic is a highlight. Another highlight is the number of people I was able to meet during my all too brief time there. These are people that believe in Southern Hospitality, family, faith and friendship. Throw in a dash of Tennessee football and you have a place that so many love to call home.

The next couple of stops for us were in Michigan and Indiana for more of the same that we discovered. While our time was in different areas of the state, the values shone through clearly.

That leads me to the discovery of one of the best gifts that you can give. In all of the places that I’ve lived, one value remains true. The value of having a community; A place that you can call home. People that care about you and yours and are willing to do what it takes to step out and help. This is what I’ve seen in so many places that warms my heart. While each is different, each has community and that is one of the essentials of human life that so many people don’t think about. You don’t know you need it until you don’t have it. I have been fortunate to be in places where I have been valued and cared for. It leads me to want to do the same for others. Finding a community or a place to belong is more trouble than you know. That’s why it’s so important to create and maintain great community with people that care for you. In the end, it will be what will define so many of us years down the road. It is what matters when you strip away all of the non-essentials.