After nearly twenty-seven years of living in the Arizona Desert, I am finally beginning to realize why I came here in the first place, and why I have stayed as long as I have. It’s not just the balmy winters and the gentler pace of life; it’s not the picture-perfect sunsets and exotic saguaros. What I love most of all about this place are the wide-open spaces all around me.
I know there are plenty of people – some of my German relatives included – who look at this stark landscape and all they see is parched earth, brown and withered – looking plants, and a sky so vast and blinding, it makes everything else shrink into insignificance. Yet it is exactly this vast and wide open space that I have come to love with an intensity I never thought myself capable of.
I was twenty years old when I first caught sight of this immense and awe-inspiring landscape of the West. It was a bird’s eye view through the window of a Boeing 747, and I was on my way to Oakland, California, to visit my boyfriend. I had left Frankfurt under a closed-in and oppressive grey sky that seemed to mirror my internal state perfectly. Now, all I could see and feel was an immensely open and brilliant sky, and a transparency and lightness of air that was almost intoxicating.
Space is vital to me. It’s not just physical space, but internal space as well. When I was growing up in Germany, I felt as if I couldn’t breathe at times. My whole life, so it seemed, had been planned out for me, from the schools I attended to the profession I was ultimately going to engage in. I went along with all these plans, never questioning the authority of my parents, because that’s what was expected of me. But all this came with a heavy price: I was restless, unhappy, depressed and anxious, and I eventually realized that I was living someone’s else’s dream, not mine.
When I turned twenty-two I left home for good. Creating a buffer zone of 5000 miles between myself and my family was easy; what proved to be a lot harder was discarding the “you should” and “you must” that I had identified with for such a long time. Little by little, I began to build a life for myself, reclaiming and expanding my internal space until it matched the physical distance I had put between myself and my old home.
I believe this is why I love the Arizona Desert as fervently as I do: it has become a symbol of personal freedom, a signpost of how far I’ve traveled both externally and internally, and a reminder that the journey is not over yet.
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