Why it’s called the Heartland
To the editor:
Less than a month ago I indefinitely moved to Fairfield, Iowa.
Since then, I have been thinking about a conversation that I had a number of years ago; it involved a small Iowan town the name of which I cannot remember (so it even may have been Fairfield!).
I was on an Amtrak that was heading to Chicago via Iowa, which I had boarded in Denver. Thereon, I got to speaking with a female teenager travelling back to her family’s home. I mentioned that I was heading to Chicago.
She, embarrassed by what she thought was the insignificance of her destination, mumbled that she was heading merely to a little town in Iowa. I was concerned by this young lady’s lack of self-esteem regarding her origins.
I therefore asked if she agreed that what was most important in life was love; she did. She also agreed that love was based on devotion; of course, because the more devoted someone is to a person the more that person is loved.
I then mentioned that I was raised in Manhattan, which of all locales is perhaps considered the most exciting and important. Literally, from there a small town in Iowa can oft be rudely referred to as “the middle of nowhere.” But, I said, in Manhattan there are a million things to do and see, and all those obligations and distractions can interfere with devotion to the person that someone loves.
Who has time for a simple family meal when also commuting three hours a day, or when all the lights on Broadway beckon? In big cities there are also many strangers and fears, so it can be hard to get to know persons: even the neighbors next door.
Further, there are only so many hours in the day and people that one can know. Thereby, big cities—with more and more places to see, people to meet, and things to do (especially when a commercial culture continually prods toward buying, seeing, or doing something else)—must breed superficiality.
But love is deep. It is then not possible in a big city to have the love and interconnectedness with all others around as it is in a small town. Big cities, although inhabited by countless persons, can be lonely places. This is true even for superstars who once left their small towns to find fame and fortune in a big city: they can be known to millions, but still not have a single someone close enough to call a true friend.
What I said to this young woman (similar enough to what I have above written) she had not before heard. She therefore seemed profoundly touched by my conclusion that there is nothing to be ashamed about in coming from a small town.
While cities can be glamorous and have loads to offer, a small town—with fewer persons, obligations, distractions, and fears—can provide something even greater: Love. And compared to love, the most valuable of all possessions, all the sparkle and excitement that Times Square could ever offer is but a glimmer.
– Rabbi Chaim Gruber, Fairfield