If my hometown could talk, it would be soft-spoken with a southern drawl. A small, quaint college town in Southwest Missouri, Bolivar resides about 7.5 hours from my new home in Louisville, Kentucky. I make the trip at least a couple of times a year. Each time I visit, the town has changed and evolved, displaying remnants of old businesses closed, and new ones in their stead. During my stays there, I often walk through my old college campus, drive by the areas I used to have tennis or soccer practices, and see familiar faces with their growing families.
My town hosts one Walmart (Supercenter I might add), one other grocery store, one movie theater, and one main drag. The town is surrounded by lakes, rivers, rope swings, creeks, trails, and caves. My family loved the outdoors, so I grew up taking full advantage of Missouri’s natural amenities.
Bolivar offered me opportunities to thrive as an athlete, partially because of the small school system, and partially because of my family’s genetic bent towards athleticism. We used to exercise as a family, my dad and I running, my sister rollerblading and my mom riding a bike. All of us strolled down the streets like a low-budget version of “The Mighty Ducks”. My brother did not support these socially hilarious exercise outings and refused to take part.
If my hometown could talk, it may make mention of a young girl who would trace its edges on foot. I loved to run and it was safe enough back then to run around town unattended. I played in soccer, softball, and basketball leagues in my youth, usually coached by my dad or a friend’s dad. It wasn’t until high school that I found my true love in tennis. I began taking lessons, competing at a high level, and being recruited to my local college’s tennis team. Unfortunately, I was injured every year other than my freshman year of college and was unable to fulfill the potential I had as a competitive athlete.
I began to hold a small grudge of sorts against my hometown, as my body began to change and deteriorate, for hosting such bad memories of injury and frustration. I decided a change of scenery would do me good, so I found myself moving on a bit of a whim to Kentucky a week after my college graduation. Of course, I couldn’t outrun my connective tissue disorder, and in my late twenties, I found that I had torn cartilage and stretched ligaments all throughout my body, and my faulty connective tissue began affecting my nervous system. I started to look back on all of the positive memories made in my youth as reasons for my current discomfort. “If only I didn’t play so many sports. Maybe then I wouldn’t be in so much pain now,” I often thought to myself.
My parent’s Bolivar home went through a flood last year which caused them to lose a lot of their belongings. After the flood, my mom compiled all of the pictures, projects and newspaper clippings she was able to salvage, and organized a bin for each of my siblings and myself. During my last trip home, I looked through my bin, and relived many of the tournaments, championships, and time spent with my teammates and friends from youth through college. I realized that I am incredibly blessed to have had such wonderful memories in my past, before my battle with chronic pain became so real and unyielding. What is it they say? “It’s better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all?”
I still generally avoid watching tennis on TV, and I often look the other way when I see a jogger enjoying a beautiful day. But I am blessed to have experienced those things so fully, that I feel the pang of loss when they are present. I think back to the time my tennis team won regionals and advanced to the state tournament, the college matches that taught me to be mentally tough in games and in life, and the comradery and lifelong friendships that evolved from those experiences. I simply can’t regret the personal growth and lifelong memories that came out of those years, even if they have caused my body extra stress now.
I breathe a sigh of relief entering my hometown now that I’m in my 30’s. The shops may change, and the streets and buildings may go through renovations and updates, but it will always be the place I grew from a talented athlete who was never satisfied with her success, to a disabled woman who has found contentment. Negative memories of injury and disappointment are slowly replaced with all the positive memories of an able body as time passes. I have realized that life is about remembering the good, learning from the bad, and knowing that God has a plan in both.
If my hometown could talk, it would sigh and say, “think of me and smile.” And I will.