Exposure: Grace W.
Grace and I have been best friends for almost five years now. She lives 1,495 miles away from San Francisco, in my hometown of Midland, Texas. Midland is an “oil city” of about 133,000 people, situated halfway between Dallas and El Paso in the middle of the desert. She lives in a neighborhood filled with big, multiple story homes equipped with swimming pools and access to golf courses and country clubs. I decided to interview Grace because she has an interesting story. She was adopted from China when she was 11-months old and my parents and I were at the airport to greet her. If she wasn’t adopted by her parents, who are from Texas, she could still be in China or have been adopted by another family that lives anywhere else in the world. She could be a completely different person. But because of the people in her life and where she has grown up, she is Grace Elizabeth W., someone who I can’t imagine my life without.
When I asked Grace what her favorite things to do in Midland were, she laughed. There isn’t much to do in Midland. “I feel like my favorite things are never the actual thing I am doing, but it’s always the people you’re around that makes it enjoyable,” she says. Grace is right! Midland is as dry as the desert landscape it occupies. Entertainment is limited to swimming, going to the mall, and eating burgers and Tex-Mex. There’s not much else to do, which is why friends make every activity better. Luckily for Grace, she loves being around people. She loves talking to them, listening to them, helping them, and even dancing with them. Grace was shy when she was younger, but because Midland is a small town, it made it easier for her to make friends. Grace has become more outgoing as she has gotten older. She says, “Now Midland is just big enough where it’s nice to meet new people and talk to different people and experience something new.” Despite Midland’s lack of activities, it is full of great people who love being around people too!
Larger cities often seem much more exciting because they offer more activities and sites to see than a town like Midland. In contrast, living in a place like San Francisco—where every day is an adventure—can cause other cities to seem sort of mundane because they might offer similar experiences. Despite the fact that living in a less exciting place may make other places seem much more exciting, I asked Grace if she thought she would rather have grown up in a city like San Francisco or New York. “I think growing up it would have been hard for me to be [in a larger city] because Midland is [small enough to be comfortable] but it’s big enough that’s it’s not suffocating,” she answered. For her, Midland’s size is perfect for a shy girl who didn’t like to reach out. I could identify with Grace when I was younger. Most of my friends were sort of “handed” to me through church, school, or mutual friends. It was hard for me to have to go out and push myself to find new friends here in San Francisco. Now that Grace has become more outgoing, she finds it exciting to reach out to new people and build relationships with them.
Grace has grown since her shy days, maybe in part because her family is not the shy type. “I like being out of my comfort zone. I like feeling that kind of awkwardness.,” she says, talking about the awkwardness of meeting new people, something that most shy people try to avoid. Grace volunteers at her church by checking in other teenagers and giving them name tags for their Wednesday night youth service. She explained, “That’s always been fun for me because it’s new and I’m meeting new people.” She now enjoys being around people she doesn’t know and going through the initial awkwardness of getting to know them because, in the long run, it leads to a new relationship and can ultimately be someone she can have an impact on. Despite this, she says that she is more outgoing around people she knows well and tends to be shyer around new people. When I asked if she thought that her being this way had anything to do with living in Midland, she explained, “I think me being shy or outgoing has to do more with my personality. Most of my family is outgoing, so I think I was bound to become more outgoing the older I got.”
It’s not always the place where you live, but the people you surround yourself with who have an impact on who you become. Grace pointed out that her family has had a bigger impact than Midland has on who she has become. I asked her if she was thankful for anything about Midland or her family that had an impact on her personality. She said, “It’s not Midland that changed me, it’s my family and my friends. They taught me how to stand up for what I believe in because in Midland, a lot of the people all have the same beliefs, so I feel like you are never afraid [to say what you believe in]. I feel like it teaches you that you can say what you believe in because you have gotten so used to people agreeing with you. It makes it easier to be able to tell those who don’t believe the same things [what you believe in,] and you can still stand firm in what you believe.” Living in Midland has taught her to not be afraid of judgment. In a world so full of mixed beliefs and conflicting ideas, Midland and her family have helped her form and stand firm in her beliefs.
Midland is a very sheltered place, compared to San Francisco. Grace told me that she felt that Midland has done a good job at keeping her guarded, but not to the point where she is completely oblivious to the world outside of Midland. “I feel like I’ve been very sheltered, but I also know a lot [about the world outside of Midland] too. I feel like now, because we have social media and everything, there is so much in your face and I feel like I learn a lot from that. There are some things that I kind of wish I didn’t know, but there’s a lot of things that Midland doesn’t show you [that you need to know to understand the world around you].” Grace’s family also helped her to discover the world around her. Having three older brothers who have lived in larger cities around the country and having parents who love to travel to awesome places has provided an opportunity for Grace to really see the world around her. For me, living in San Francisco, I have realized that if you are learning about the world from social media, you are only seeing it from a bird’s eye view. When you live in a city like San Francisco, you are experiencing and living in the middle of the tough things that everyone else is only seeing through their phone. “In some ways, I do wish that a few things were kind of put more in your face, but at the same time, I feel like it should be [shown to you at] a certain age. If I could change something, I would make [Midland] a little less sheltered but still fairly sheltered,” Grace told me.
Having Grace as a friend has allowed me to stay connected to my original home. The San Francisco mindset is very different from the Midland mindset, and at some points it can be very overwhelming. It is nice to have someone who shares the same beliefs and ideas as you, someone who I am able to go to and talk things out. It can be very easy to drift away from your beliefs when you live in a place that is so “out there” with what they claim as their values, but Grace keeps me in check and is always there to remind me where I should be standing. Although I do love the city, I am very thankful that I grew up in a place like Midland because it gave me a foundation that I can stand on and look back to when I feel I am drifting from what I truly believe. Grace told me that she believed if she had grown up in a different town, she would be a completely different person because she would be surrounded by other people and go through different experiences. I have grown up in two completely different places and have changed quite a bit between those places, but not to the point where I am a completely different person. While Grace helps keep me focused on the important things, new friends help open my eyes to different perspectives and beliefs. I’m blessed to be from Midland and to now live in SF! If I hadn’t moved, I would have never met Cassidy, whom you will meet in my next post!
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