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The DNA of Ann Arbor & Ryan McVicar

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

I have a certain DNA. I didn’t grasp for it, it was given to me. In part from my mom, in part from my dad. My quirks, tendencies, skill set, and propensities are rooted in this not-asked-for, but rather gifted reality of my family tree passing along a DNA that uniquely culminated in me.

Similarly, every city has a particular DNA so to speak. I now live in my 14th city of residence since the time I was born. Every one of those place had it’s own personality and propensities. It’s a great wonder, and an incredibly interesting phenomenon, how every community, town and city uniquely expresses herself.

I’m new to Ann Arbor. It will take time to get to know her better and to see if the stats reflect something of the truth about who she is, but if the stats are anywhere in the ballpark, I’m glad to live here because we’re a lot alike.

In a list comparing the top fifteen “life concerns” of Ann Arbor vs. the national average (sources compiled from US Census Bureau, Synergos Technologies Inc., Experian, MissionInsite) there are only three in which Ann Arbor surpasses the national average. Those 3?

· “Getting over my past/guilt”

· “Making friends/loneliness”

· “Mental health issues”

Apparently, Ann Arbor isn’t as burdened as the rest of our country in areas like “bullying,” “personal health problems,” or “unemployment.” Instead, Ann Arbor’s DNA brings out deeper, existential, concerns. Again, I just moved here and I’m still learning. But I’m intrigued. Intrigued, maybe, because I fit in.

“Getting over my past/dealing with guilt”: I don’t struggle with getting over the past or feelings of guilt because of a murderous crime record, nor do I think this is a concern for Ann Arbor. I am, however, saddened by the growing mountain of personal faults (minor and major) through the years that expose me to be a person who, against all my wishes, isn’t perfect and doesn’t have it all together. My guess: Ann Arbor is a people who wants to have it all together too, but doesn’t.

“Making friends/loneliness”: I don’t struggle with loneliness because I’m shy or afraid to reach out to make new friends, nor do I think that’s Ann Arbor’s issue. I do, however, struggle more and more with friendship and loneliness. Living in my now 14th city means I’ve lived in 13 others. It means a lot of goodbye’s with good intentions of keeping up with people with whom I shared life and laughs, but then realizing how little we really keep up. It means a lot of people in a lot of places where promising friendships blossomed, only to die for one reason or another.

From time to time I begin to wonder if it’s worth the investment of time and emotion. It’s pretty easy, and seemingly advantageous, to go on with multiple shallow relationships absent of a few deep ones. This way of life insures me against the predictable pain that comes when friends move away, or when conflict arises, or when any number of things cause us to drift out of a deep friendship.

Here’s the problem: Human beings are hard wired for deep, satisfying friendship and camaraderie. It’s impossible to escape without the consequences of loneliness. My guess: Ann Arbor wants deep friendship and is probably really good at it, but has developed a few callouses against it and suffers the consequences.

“Mental health issues”: I don’t struggle with any one mental health issue that is easily categorized in the DSM-4 (I own and I am familiar with the 4th edition, but perhaps the 5th edition has new insights that do in fact nail me). Of course I’m on the spectrum for every category, as is everyone, and I realize the debilitating reality that many suffer acutely.

But, as life goes on, either I’m becoming more fragmented or else I’m realizing how fragmented I’ve always been. Either way, I feel very un-whole at times. Sometimes I don’t know why I do what I do, or why I feel the way I feel, or why I am who I am. There’s often high-grade shame or fear that leaves me with low-grade depression or anger. I want mental health and wholeness, but too often wake up with fragments of myself that I’m not sure how to pull back together.

My guess: Ann Arbor knows how good it is to be mentally healthy and whole, but continues to find different fragments spread all over the place and isn’t sure how it got this way. Maybe, Ann Arbor doesn’t know who she really is anymore.

I’m glad to be part of this imperfect, lonely, fragmented city called Ann Arbor. I’m also hopeful that real change (for me, and us) is not part of my imagination. Real change is what God desires and something of which he has the sure answer. He makes these answers known to us in the Bible and particularly in the gospel (the good news of who Jesus is and what he accomplished on our behalf). My hope is, more and more, to appropriate and internalize the answers that God has already provided, by grace. I also hope I’m able to have countless conversations with my new Ann Arbor friends about what this all means and how we can experience real change together.


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