Maybe what you’re expecting from this is for me to list off Pittsburgh firsts or Pittsburgh bests. The sports championships and dynasties. The art museums. The talent. The evolution of an industrial city to a hipster-infused green-filled changeling. The great places to eat. Even that epic, award-winning accent. But to be frank, there’s a hell of a lot more to the city than that.
Seven years ago I left my beloved Pittsburgh to explore pastures of perhaps not greener but different grass. Upon reflection however, I’ve realized there is nothing that can possibly replace the foundations of character built growing up in the Burgh. In the time since leaving, I’ve lived in a number of cities and none have provided a glimpse of the same foundational principles. The farther I travel and the more I see the more I understand that character through action is not innate. It is rare. It is developed. It can only be present in those that understand both hard work and hardship and somehow amidst that understanding find the room to empathize. It is tremendously difficult but you cannot expect to turn around in the world and find an immediate support system waiting behind you, because not everyone will stand behind principle. But if you were raised by example to be an example then it should be reflexive to stand up. Reflexive. But sometimes you stand alone.
The farther I travel the more I understand how lucky I was to learn not just through speech but also through example what great art is. What great art was, and its origination. What it meant for art to have something to say, because there was something profound in action that predated it. Art without pretense, without feathers and glitter that had something that could change you through its existence because it came from a place of raw, honest truth. Raw, honest truth is a gift to hold onto. It’s endangered.
And the farther I travel the more I find those that don’t know how to win, or don’t know how to win graciously. Winning is a wonderful thing, but it is wonderful when you earn it. When you work for it. There are many people who stop short in their journey to success or who try to find ways to stop others, not understanding what it means to have to work hard. Not understanding the difference between expecting a win and appreciating one. Enjoying the journey and one victory’s place along the road to another. The creation of tenacity in the everyday is remarkable, don’t ever lose it. Some just never find it or put their name on a home run after starting on third base.
The farther I travel the more I miss talking to people. Having real conversations and inquiries with those I don’t know, on the street and on the bus. I miss having a mutual understanding based on place and on general decorum and similar senses of humor. I miss watching people give up their seat on the bus, or holding the door for others. I miss the exhale getting off the plane on a visit home.
The longer I stay away from home the more I fear the loss of the qualities I was given innately growing up in Pittsburgh. I worry I will develop the shell people build around themselves when they are missing their same. I worry about what will happen if I stay away too long. If I’ll also start to lose my patience with people, or forget what it is to advance with a sense of purpose. If I forget what it means to work hard and see results. And what part of that matters to other people.
There is no amount of sheen that will hide an empty statement or baseless “work of art”. I now understand it is a gift to recognize the real. To be the real through action. To understand the weighted word, to know and treat a person as a neighbor, and a neighbor as yourself. With sincerity, it’s something special to be from Pittsburgh- one of the only shortcuts to living and knowing these principles one could hope to find.