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Letter: Thanks to the ‘heart of Hastings’

Sometimes you pick the town, and sometimes the town picks you.

Before I came to Hastings, I was working a steady and fairly secure job in Woodbury and was living in Lake Elmo. I didn’t lead a fancy life, and could count the number of people I could rely on on my fingers.

When the company I worked for decided to relocate my department to Hastings, I decided to take that as a positive – make this my chance to re-energize a waning feeling about my career. I commuted from my modest home in Lake Elmo to Hastings daily for about six months before deciding I couldn’t do it anymore. I spent my first night as a resident of Hastings surrounded by my hastily packed boxes of things on Jan. 1, 2011. I was leaving Lake Elmo, my roommate brother and some bad habits behind.

It was a chance to start fresh.

After a few quiet, solitude-filled months, I had settled into my apartment and work had started to have meaning again.

But I was lonely. I typically liked my alone time, but this was starting to become unbearable. I had lovely co-workers, but my nights were very quiet.

I happened upon a story in the newspaper about a local theater group gearing up for their first large-scale production. Community theater. Just the thing I needed to connect me to new people.

I went to the first meeting, enjoyed the presentation by Black Dirt Theater, and waited afterwards to introduce myself. I informed them that while I wasn’t interested in performing, I would love to use my graphic design and social media skills and help promote their shows.

They agreed.

Weeks passed. New exciting work was being generated. And more importantly, I was instantly welcomed into a community of people.

A lot of people.

“Oklahoma” was a success, and to my surprise and joy, I was already hard at work on the promotional materials for the next show – and the next, and the next! As the shows came and went, new friendships blossomed and grew. My job, on the other hand, was shrinking.

I learned about my job ending in November, 2012. And by the new year, it was over. There was an option to possibly work out of River Falls, but with the bad experience of commuting less than two years earlier, I decided to take this as my cue to exit that company.

With my limited savings, and the kindness of my new friends at “Black Dirt Theater,” I took a short hiatus and looked for jobs in town.

The summer brought our biggest show yet, “Annie.”  There were more amazing new friends, lots of great work and a lot of fun nights out.

But the fun soon ended.

Money was running short, and everyone was starting to move onto new things. I started to get low. It was lower than I’ve ever felt. It was strange, the most social time I’ve ever had, and I was having difficulty enjoying it because the money was just not there.

The job search continued, and what happened next? Yup, my car died.

Done. This was the straw. I couldn’t afford to fix it. I couldn’t afford a new one, or a used one for that matter, and there was no sign of being able to any time soon.

My friends noticed. I try not to show my troubles, but my friends noticed. Within a day I was borrowing the car of one of my strongest allies. I continue to use the Black Dirt office as my home-base for the job search. Additionally, to my utter surprise, my friends threw me with a ‘pick-me-up’ party that raised my spirits (and filled my stomach and refrigerator!)

That’s not all.

I came home this evening to find an envelope with a card of encouragement, $100 in cash and a $100 gift card to a grocery store. It had been hand delivered, with a simple “Thomas” written on the envelope. I have no idea who it’s from.

This is Hastings.

It’s not a perfect town (heck, they don’t even have a Panera), but what it does have is heart. I’m not a person of much faith, but I’m aware of its strong presence here. However, this is beyond even faith. It’s basic, human decency. Recognizing that someone is in need and stepping up to address the need.

I did not choose Hastings.

Hastings chose me.

Perhaps the tide has turned back to my favor; this week I start my new job, and in the next couple weeks, my continually amazing friends will put on two great productions: the “24 Hour New Play Challenge,” and “Arsenic & Old Lace” at the historic LeDuc Mansion.

I don’t know who gifted me with the care package, so, for now, I’ll choose to believe it was the heart of Hastings and I will strive to do my best to pay it back. Or, better yet, pay it forward.

Thank you Hastings – I’ve never been more proud to call a place “home.”