I lived in Ann Arbor for twenty-three years, then semi-retired to Florida in Mickey Mouse’s backyard. Two years later, the wild and wacky world of the coronavirus brought me back permanently. Here’s why.

When you think you have your future figured out, when you think things have settled into a different direction, when you think you have become a valued member of an entirely different community–well, think again.

I was a happy resident of Ann Arbor, fully immersed in the community. I’m a psychologist, and I own a brain injury rehab clinic called BrainTrainers. I directed for Ann Arbor Civic Theatre and other local theaters and even served on the Civic’s board of directors for a while. I was also president of the board of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. I wrote a very successful theater review blog, Mostly Musical Theater, at A2View.com. If there was a committee to be on, I was probably on it at one point or another.

But in 2018, the time seemed right to move south. I bought a house on a pond in Horizon West, Florida, a half-mile from the Magic Kingdom, where life seemed perfect and I had a full view of the fireworks every night. It was all brand-new, and it had space to grow. If you wanted to do something, you could create it there. I became a big fish in a community that physically didn’t exist a year earlier. (Horizon West is the second-fastest-growing planned community in the country).

I kept running BrainTrainers from afar and visited as needed. I came back during football season for a game at the Big House. I came in the spring to see the local theater musicals. I continued to see my dentist and eye doctor here in Ann Arbor. In the meantime, I founded the Horizon West Theater Company, raised a tremendous amount of money for it, and even directed its first musical, The Music Man, because there is no better musical about creating a community than that. Within a year, I had already won a place in the local “Who’s Who of Horizon West” and for two years in a row I was on the cover of Horizon West Happenings magazine. I built a thriving private psychology practice, and life seemed as good there as it had been in Ann Arbor.

But there was always something missing. No matter what I did to help build community there, I missed my community here. I missed the hustle and bustle of Ann Arbor life, and I missed the endless arguments between committees and anti-committees every time a new measure was introduced in city council. I missed the highly intelligent charged debate. And I missed the wealth of the arts. While others flocked to Walt Disney World’s amazing restaurants, I missed the hundreds of great restaurants we had “back home” in Ann Arbor.

But that was “back then.”

In March the fireworks stopped. Things closed down. And they stayed closed down. Even now, as Disney World reopens, it is zapped of magic–no fireworks, no parades, no tours, no character meet-and-greets. In short, nothing that made Horizon West such a magical place to live, work, and grow.

Unable to hop on a plane anytime I wanted or needed to return to Ann Arbor I had no other choice but to move back. I made a quick phone call, talked to a few people, and within a month I was back in Ann Arbor–not just back, but in a townhouse a block away from my previous address. Within that month I reconnected with work, personal, and theater friends. I’m even back on the Civic’s board.

It’s as if I pushed a big red “reset” button and things reverted back to where I was before–a fresh start, the same place.

What makes a community a home? What makes a place grow ties so deep that even at the most adverse of times, coming back was still the most comfortable thing to do?

It was difficult leaving a booming, thriving new community unlimited in potential, resources, and space and come back to a town where the committees and anti-committees fight over every available plot of land.

But when it was time to move back, I hired an Ann Arbor-based mover (Men on the Move), and when I needed a surprise food gift for people in Florida I ordered from Zingerman’s Mail Order. When I needed drops, props, and costumes, I ordered them from Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, from Croswell Opera House, from Tobins Lake Studios–all Michigan resources.

I packed up my house in Florida and the dog, and I drove back to Michigan. We arrived on a cool, gloomy day in May. It rained overnight, and that smell the next morning was at once familiar. The air was bracing, and I thought that my southern hound dog might have a heart attack on that thirty-seven-degree morning. But he didn’t–and immediately took to the sounds and smells of Ann Arbor. Within a week I had invitations to go for physically distanced walks, barbecues, and other local events, which felt immediately familiar and different at the same time. We talked and debated and complained about things that had changed and things that had not. The circle was complete. Having a physically distanced cookout with friends here just felt different than any cookout in Florida the past couple of years–more … intelligent?

Are there some massive differences? Oh heck, yes. Even during our three-week “stay-at-home” period in Florida, few people stayed at home. Many things were closed, but nothing really stopped. Community services there never closed down, nor did dog day cares or shopping or license processing or landscaping or basically any other social or community service. When I got back to Ann Arbor, I was surprised to see how many restaurants here were still closed–within a few days in March every restaurant down south had converted to takeaway or delivery, and most were already open for indoor dining when I left.

Some community experiences, apparently, are different from place to place. People up north refer to “a new normal”–I almost never heard that in Florida. Within a few days of moving back, I found I could not turn on the news in Michigan with its fearmongering all-virus-all-the-time coverage, the likes of which I had not seen down south.

And that brings me back to where I am now. Ann Arbor and our world here in Michigan doesn’t have Mickey Mouse in it–I can’t drive to the Magic Kingdom in three-and-a-half minutes nor see the nightly fireworks from my porch–but I have a richness in community that I never felt in Florida. We have a lot of challenges ahead–but it’s good to be back home.