Is it necessarily presumptuous to broadcast one’s own story? I think I've shied away from doing a “who am I?” post for fear that it might come across as indulgent. Having said that, how can we make real connections with a social media audience without getting a little personal? The veneer of a curated Instagram feed with an assigned aesthetic can sometimes create an almost fictional character. So to expound upon the “about” page of my website…
The story of how I grew to love a city I was once apprehensive and uncertain about has a lot to do with how I relate to people. Generally, social interaction energizes me. It's safe to say that I lean heavily toward extrovertism. As a child, I was known to strike up long-winded conversations with just about anyone. Take for instance, an IHOP waitress I met while my family was vacationing in south Florida circa 1993. She and I had this long chat, the details of which I've since forgotten. But I included her on this running mental list of “friends” I kept. My mom likes to remind me that I used to announce to her: “I have (237) friends now!” For me, anyone who'd carry on conversation and smile qualified as a new friend. I had a major case of only child syndrome back then.
My easy attachment to people made moving from New York to Florida especially difficult. Compound this with my being 17, fresh out of High School, and ready to take on the world. It seemed like the worst timing. I had recently been baptized and enjoyed this spiritual blossoming in the company of mentors and peers who helped me through some of my most painful experiences to date. I was a newly licensed driver. The last thing I wanted to do was part ways with the place where these things were happening. But I was a minor, and this was a family move. What say did I have? I did get to stay behind for three months while I finished my first semester of college. I moved in with my best friends and their parents. I was affectionately called “son no. 3.” Those months were a surreal and pleasant end to the Long Island chapter of my life.
St. Augustine was mostly unfamiliar to me until we decided to move there. I got a glimpse of subdivisions on County Road 210 the summer before we moved, but that part of St. Johns County didn't capture the old city charm that would later grow on me.
I was sure that I'd be miserable living in Florida. I developed this funny habit when I first moved here. Especially when I would drive northbound on US 1, the absence of palm trees comforted me. “I can't tell this is Florida,” I'd think to myself. The oaks transported me elsewhere...not quite Long Island, but maybe North Carolina. As for my family’s reasons for moving...they were practical. My mom is a single parent and the cost of living on Long Island was among the highest in the country. My brother was four at the time. I had the special opportunity to help raise him. He's always been counted as a well-timed blessing. If my mom was going to have much of a life outside of her nursing career and parenting, we needed to simplify our lives and lower our expenses. So in principle, I appreciated what this change could mean for all of us.
Big picture in mind, I went on this friend making campaign of sorts as soon as I joined my family in St. Augustine. Joining a local congregation gave us access to a community of fellow Christians from all walks of life. I probably exchanged numbers with every other person I met. Even still, I spent several years obsessing over Long Island. I missed my friends enough to call weekly. I put pressure on myself to move back "home" shortly after college. Almost all of my savings funded summer flights to New York for blissful reunions with my favorite people and places. I'd chronicle each trip with pictures and digital slideshows, which I then watched constantly - showing them to any willing guest at my family's house.
After being here for seven years, a shift began that moved me to broaden my travel to include new destinations like Colorado, D.C., and Spain. Meanwhile, I started doing a Bible education work with a newly formed American Sign Language congregation. We regularly hosted visiting speakers and their families on weekends. One afternoon, I was standing in the foyer of my place of worship when a visiting sister asked a deaf friend of mine to suggest a place to have a late lunch. My friend immediately pointed me out, assuring her that I was a go-to resource on all things St. Augustine. I gladly made some recommendations.
My friend's observation gave me pause. I unknowingly built a reputation as a St. Augustine aficionado. This was a good thing. It meant I finally started giving my new address a shot - maybe a wholehearted one. Really, what’s not to love about a quaint low-key city on the water? The sense of time travel and wonder that come with every visit to the historic district hasn’t lost its luster 13 years later.
I still take occasional trips to New York. In fact, I was there twice last summer after not visiting for over two years. My northern friends still come down to see me. When they do, I love to show them the special old city places I've learned to appreciate. They're consistently smitten by the food, nature trails, and historic sites.
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As for my four year plan to move back to Long Island after college...I graduated right into the Great Recession and quite broke. The next four years were spent in a full-time volunteer ministry assignment here in St. Augustine. They were some of the most rewarding and enriching years of my life.
It took me several years to learn a valuable lesson: joy doesn’t depend on circumstance. Our state of mind has everything to do with contentment or lack thereof. I’ll never forget the footage I saw of Haitian children having the time of their lives despite the wreckage surrounding them after the 2010 earthquake. They made kites and sails out of branches and plastic bags, chasing each other, laughing heartily. They weren’t wallowing in self-pity. They made the best of what life had to offer. When I broadened my outlook and observed what was waiting to be explored in my vicinity, my constant longing started to fade. Moving back to New York wasn’t going to miraculously perfect my life. I still become easily attached to friends. I also become easily enamored by my surroundings, often saying, “look where I get to live.” It’s now hard to imagine having a home base other than St. Augustine. Every trip across the Bridge of Lions, every swim in the Atlantic, each walk down Aviles St...it just does it for me.
Ironically, the harder we try to make certain things happen, the less they’re going to happen, am I right?