Where Might I Live a Good Life? by Leighton Smith

I remember that first ride in the countryside off to an unknownriverside road. God, the space here felt so good. I had enjoyed my time in urban settings, but the singular sound of a v-twin engine was letting me unwind. I always wanted a motorcycle, and I could sense that a month of uninterrupted free time was something I may not experience often in the coming years. I rode across the state of Iowa and back reacquainting myself with its beauty. I had been studying philosophy in Chicago and, if I’m honest, trying to answer all the big questions by reading and talking, not doing. What is a good life? An examined life, no? Yet, I had started to sense that l needed more than ideas in order to deeply know anything. I was returning to Iowa to study law and business, to begin a family, and to find a place in the world. I wanted to be in motion.

Four years later, I was re-examining the question, but now in more pragmatic terms. Would life be best in a city, with a commute, a higher salary, a path that would quickly accelerate but potentially return to a quieter place? “Why don’t you just do what you want now?” she asked. Her wisdom had a way of showing up at all the right times. So, I did, and began a legal and finance career that included some travel but let us live here. We bought a place in North Liberty alongside thousands of other 20-somethings and began adult life in Iowa City-Cedar Rapis (ICR). That choice meant a slower pace, community, and a nearness to family. What is a good life? A life lived for others, I was concluding, and this felt like a place I could live that way. I wanted to be connected.

Life brought so many beautiful milestones. Three children. A new home. Career changes and growth. So many friendships built. I threw myself into community in ways that I found deeply meaningful, ultimately resulting in ‘Person of the Year’ notoriety. When I heard Peter Kageyama, the author of For the Love of Cities, speak about connectors I felt a deep joy in knowing what I had done. But life brought hard things, too. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was working more than I wanted. Most weeks I was more often with strangers than family. I’ll always remember a conversation with my dear friend, Matthew. “Is that what you want?” he asked. All that motion and connectedness had spiraled in ways I hadn’t intended, and some hard changes were coming. I realized I needed to stop some of the giving and ask for help. I wanted to be healthy.

When summer came back around, I was adjusting to life as a single parent, making space for a new relationship, and treating myself a little better. FOMO was replaced by JOMO. I had never felt this way; vibrating with a love for those nearest to me and rushing home at day’s end. I was finding peace on my front porch reading the travel section aloud with my best friend. One afternoon I was northbound on that same road from years ago, again on two wheels. This time, though, the noise of that v-twin had been replaced by the sound of relative silence. I was moving by my own power now and enjoying the slower speed of a bicycle. I recalled a stoic line, “Happiness has all that it wants.”

I’m not there yet, but as I have recreated myself, ICR has housed me well. I’ve come to love it so. I still value the motion I find here, love being near to the farm where I was raised, the people, the landscape, the way the arts vibrate in our culture. All of it. And when we don’t love it, we leave for a while. But then we come back.

I think I will spend the rest of my life coming home.