Post Author: Rev. Gia Hayes-Martin
I didn’t truly appreciate Cleveland while I was growing up there. Teenage Me could imagine nothing more pathetic than never moving away from one’s hometown. So I got out as soon as I could: college in Cincinnati, study abroad in Oxford, graduate school in Nashville. I came back to Cleveland at age 26, PhD in hand, to go through the ordination process. And it was then that I fell in love with my hometown. The Cleveland Museum of Art, which I’d enjoyed as a teenager, presented new depths of beauty to my adult eyes. I evolved as a foodie at the lavish produce, meat, and cheese stalls in the West Side Market. I discovered funky urban living in my elegant prewar apartment and dreamed about buying a Victorian in the newly hip neighborhood of Ohio City. For the first time, I could picture myself being a lifelong Clevelander.
My husband and I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area for seminary thinking we’d go back to Ohio. We loved Northern California. It’s hard not to. It is a place of incredible natural beauty, rich and diverse immigrant cultures, and creative, youthful energy, and we had fun exploring everything it had to offer. But the Bay Area wasn’t perfect. The cost of living was astonishing; our heavily subsidized rent for a one-bedroom apartment was more than the mortgage payment on my parents’ 2800-square-foot house. And it had been a strain on us, not to mention expensive, to live so far from my family in Ohio and my in-laws in Scotland. So we tried to suck the marrow out of our time in the Bay Area, knowing we wouldn’t be there forever, and being generally okay with that. To our surprise, my first call ended up being across the bay from my seminary, in a parish that was just right for me. We moved from our student apartment into parish-owned housing. My husband didn’t even have to change jobs. California still felt temporary to me, as though we were camping out there; I knew I would stay in that call for three years or so, and we would soon move on.
When the time came to search for my second call, we discussed where we might like to live. We hoped to stay in the next parish for several years, so this decision had long-term implications. Naturally, I pushed hard to return to Ohio, and my husband agreed. I missed my hometown terribly. Sometimes my longing for Cleveland was physical, a raw ache gnawing in my chest. It seemed that some part of me would shrivel and die if I couldn’t live there again.
Of course, there were no suitable positions open in Cleveland. There were no suitable positions open within a two-hour drive of Cleveland, for that matter. I submitted my name to two parishes in other parts of Ohio, as well as to other congregations in the Midwest. None was the right fit for me. I began praying hard for the perfect parish to open up in Cleveland, preferably without a catastrophe happening to a colleague. I wasn’t quite daydreaming about poisoning the communion wine at diocesan events, but I wasn’t far from it, either.
Then the emails started arriving. Three in one week, encouraging me to submit my name for a parish just 15 miles from where I was living. I’d looked at the parish profile when it had first been posted and thought, “Wow, seems like a wonderful community. Too bad we’re not interested in staying here.” Still, I know how the Holy Spirit tends to work in my life, and multiple emails appearing spontaneously, all urging the same thing, might as well be the heavens opening to the strains of celestial song as angels hold a bright neon sign reading GOD SAYS DO THIS. So I applied. I fought it; oh, how I fought it. I spent several months arguing with God, trying to find some way out of California. Finally I stopped fighting and gave myself up to the flow of the Spirit. My arguments with God evolved into “God, I want to go home to Cleveland––yet not my will but your will be done.”
I received the call to be the rector of this parish late on a Tuesday evening in mid-May, immediately after the vestry voted to elect me. My husband and I were too high on adrenalin to sleep, so we went for a long walk, talking, talking. As my feet struck the pavement I’d trodden for three years, something began to feel permanent. This place began to be mine. It had been seeping into my heart with all the subtlety of the ocean fog that creeps towards San Francisco Bay on summer nights. I began to understand that the state where I thought I’d been camping out was home. And I rejoiced that I got to stay, even as I grieved the loss of Cleveland.
I took a month off between leaving my first parish and starting my new call, and I spent a week of that time in Cleveland. My parents were preparing to sell their house and move to Colorado to be closer to my sister’s family. I knew this might be the last time I would be there, and I was consciously saying farewell to my beloved city. It had been almost three years since I’d visited. Cleveland had moved on without me. The art museum had completed a major expansion, a fire had closed several stalls in the West Side Market, familiar faces had gone. I went for a run in the valley where my high-school cross-country team had trained years ago, and I hardly recognized it. Cleveland felt less like my special place and more like somewhere I used to live. Yet I can’t stop loving the city I once knew. I boarded the plane back home––home to the Bay Area––knowing that part of my heart will always belong to Cleveland. And part of my heart now belongs to California too.
In my new office, heated by the streaming sun of a Silicon Valley September, I unpacked books, arranged furniture, and stowed ibuprofen liqui-gels and a tub of raw almonds in the bottom desk drawer. And I got a large framed poster of the Cleveland skyline to hang over my desk. I wanted to sit at my computer and gaze at dusk falling over the Cuyahoga River, streetlights coming up on the Detroit-Superior Bridge, and the Terminal Tower silhouetted in the fading sky. Teenage Me would be delighted that I got out, yet I like to think she’d understand my divided heart. I can long for the home I loved and lost even as God finds me a new home to love.
Image by: Timothy Valentine
Used with permission.