Big City, Small World

When we were first married, my husband Jon and I moved to a small town in Iowa. At least, it felt small to me. Burlington was a city of 30,000 people, but 20,000 of them seemed to be related to Jon, and the other 10,000 soon came to know him as the new assistant county attorney.

By contrast, I was a stranger from Wisconsin. Without a job and without roots in the county, I found it difficult to make connections. Granted, Jon’s grandma was fun, but she had her own friends.

When a woman from church invited me to a prayer group, I went. It was small, less than ten ladies, but they were praying for God’s leadership to begin a Community Bible Study class. I admired their sense of purpose, and continued to meet with them until I found a job a few months later.

We lived in Burlington less than two years. To my great relief, my husband followed a new job to Kansas City where we settled in the suburbs. “We finally have a place on the parade route,” I said in my ecstatic phone calls home.

That was half a lifetime ago.

Last Sunday after church, a stranger approached me. “I see you belong to Community Bible Study,” she said, pointing to the notebook I carried. “I do, too.”

“Oh?” I replied. “How long have you been a part of it?”

“Well, I haven’t been in this location very long. We moved here from Iowa last summer.”

Can you guess the ending? She was the leader of that long-ago prayer group.

When we left Burlington, I thought we escaped the small town existence. But life in the Heartland sometimes feels like one big small town. I never know who I’ll meet when I go out.

Once, late at night, we made an unplanned stop at a hotel in Des Moines. We pulled into a parking space, and the car next to us belonged to old family friends.

One evening I ran to Wal Mart for a gallon of ice cream. I passed a woman in the freezer aisle, and something made me look twice. We were high school friends in the 1980’s, in a town nine hours away.

Those are the crazy coincidences, the times that give me chills. But my days are full of ordinary contact, too: At school, at church, in line at the bank. As a young mom, I treasured my weekly trips to the grocery, where the checkers were friendly and the baggers made a fuss over my children.

When I lived in a small town, I craved the big world. Now I live in a big town, and I love my small world.

Tell me about your crazy coincidences. Have you ever met an old friend in an unexpected place?


  1. The most unusual “meeting” I had was in an Applebees in Newton, KS. I met friends there and as we were leaving, a woman ran out of Applebees to greet me. She recognized me from Facebook.

  2. The first thing that came to mind was that I enjoyed our dinner at Oklahoma Joe’s tonight.

    Second thing is that many years ago we had a neighbor who was an anchorman on the local evening news. We didn’t know them well. They moved away. We lost track of them. About ten years later, my husband and his boss were on a biz trip to Washington D.C. While they were walking down the street, the news anchorman called my husband’s name out of the crowd. In a unusal place and an unusual situation, the journalist recognized him and even remembered his name. Apparently we are never really incognito.

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