On passports and progress

There's a Drug Mart in my sleepy small town, a town that sits just beyond the suburbs of what most might call a city. Since we moved here a year and a half ago, I've driven by the place a thousand times, run past it maybe fifty.

Today I went in for the very first time, strode right past the signs about liquor sold at state minimums, about the new movie releases for $1.99.  The store was bigger than I imagined. Dirtier, too. Aisle after aisle of brand new products stacked on top of dingy old shelves. If the store had changed since the 80s, it was only because they'd swapped the cabbage patch kids out for the pillow pets.

When I was 10, maybe 11, I used to walk to a place just like this with my little brother. The Drug Mart was less than a mile from home, and I'd always buy him a candy bar or let him choose a toy from one of the machines. (I think a candy bar cost 33 cents, maybe 25 cents on special.) That same year, I used my paper route money to buy my little sister a knock-off cabbage kid for Christmas. I hid it from her as best I could, told her not to try to find it, but she was sneaky and smart and determined, and she found it. I was so mad I almost took it back. (But I've forgiven you now, Robin.)

Today I went to the Drug Mart, and a candy bar was 85 cents, but what did that matter because I didn't go there for candy. I only needed a passport picture so I could cross "renew passport" off my list. So I stepped back into the time capsule also known as the small town drug store, and I half smiled for the picture, just enough to hide my horse-ish gumline. And when I went to pay for the photo, they hand-wrote my name down in a spiral bound book on wide-ruled paper, and it took an eternity, like easily 45 seconds.

I used to think poorly of the places untouched by progress. I used to think the only thing that mattered was moving forward. I used to think anything outdated was ugly, anything unchanged was pathetic. But the more time I spend in this small and quiet rhythm of a sleepy town, the more I begin to wonder whether I've had it all wrong.

Progress has merit, certainly. But so does constancy, simplicity, contentment. And these qualities can't be collected like stamps in a passport. You don't capture them by sprinting round the world in hot pursuit. No, constancy, simplicity, contentment--they come and find you only after you've stopped chasing, when you sit down to rest. And isn't it progress, after all, when I stop planning life around the places I'll go, and start living completely in the places I am? 

I think it is.

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