Time (the mystical force that it is) with all its power to sway and rearrange me is progressively illuminating a great paradox within. I imagine it settled into my soul a decade or so ago, maybe two. This contradiction holds great influence over the evolution of my personhood. It is a force that persuades my perception- shading my past, haunting my present and shaping my future.
It is rooted in the small, southern town that rocked my cradle, in the humble house on a hill shaded by maple trees I once called home. I’m not sure of the day or hour or even the year, but at some point the simplicity and familiarity of all I had ever known began to irk me like a favorite shirt that doesn’t quite accommodate your abdomen in the same manner it used to.
There was a time jovial shouts of children echoed off the austere brick houses lining our street. My voice was amongst them. Wonder and innocence were my closest companions. They guided me into the magical nature of the ordinary, revealing dinosaur bones in gravel driveways and a babbling brook buried in the thick of trees that led to oceans and distant lands (or so we believed as we attempted to set sail Huck-Finn-style on a piece of birchwood). I danced barefoot on cool grass and sat indian-style under clouds shaped like animals making ornate jewelry with flowering weeds. I started fires with sunlight, magnifying glasses and hairspray and trapped lightening bugs in mason jars, freezing them into organic flashlights. In those days, I was blissfully unaware of the metaphorical ladder and hierarchy of the society in which we live.
Time slowly yet steadily lured me from that naivety, through cigarettes and R.L. Stine books, neither of which my conscience allowed me to indulge in, but both of which I associated with popular, pretty girls who wore plaid Duck Heads (whom I secretly longed to be). I would sit with them by the creek (the one I once viewed as a babbling brook that could transport me to exotic places) and breathe in the smoke that billowed from their lips. There was always a grand canyon between us, but I would pretend in those moments that they considered me a friend.
I mysteriously settled into a circle of girls in junior high and high school whose lives were notably different than my own. Their houses were twice (maybe three times) as big as mine. Their cars were sexy and new. They dressed and accessorized just like the magazines. They were effortlessly cool, and I . . . was a clumsy fraud. I attempted to dress the part (on credit of course), but always felt a bit like I was masquerading. I parked my long, grey Bonneville (or baby-blue-Caravan-with-wood-paneling, depending on the day) in the back of the gravel parking lot (as far from the school as possible), praying fervently every morning and afternoon that no one saw me behind the wheel. Yes, I was a fraud. I was silently embarrassed by my lack and could never really understand why such attractive, intelligent and affluent girls desired to associate with me. We loved God and so I assumed they were graced with the ability to overlook my material shortcomings and embrace the deeper me. Perhaps they were blissfully unaware of my differences. It’s quite possible it never crossed their minds, but it was incessantly on mine.
While sitting in a Wesleyan Sunday school room in northern Indiana a handful of snobby white kids with nasally voices interrogated me about life in the south (or “sticks” as they called it). Somewhere between a question pertaining to whether or not I wore shoes to school and a request that I say the word “ya’ll” a hundred times (with loads of subsequent snickering), I concluded that southerners are perceived as deep-fried idiots by the broader world.
Needless-to-say, I progressively grew restless with my roots and felt an overwhelming desire to prune myself from their power.
Interesting isn’t it? The word “root” literally meaning “the nodes that serve to support and sustain.” I desired to cast off the very culture, society and relationships that cultivated and nourished my beginning. I wanted move to some exotic place, marry a sophisticate (with unrivaled spiritual depth) and build the life I had always envied.
The irony of it all is that a decade later, I am married to a fellow native-Nashvillian (who just so happens to be a sophisticate with unrivaled spiritual depth) and we live exactly 12.11 miles from my childhood home. There is nothing exotic about our life (except perhaps our love). I couldn’t care less about cars and houses or the latest styles. Striving to attain status and acquire material riches seems in these days like such an empty and sad endeavor. I have come to view the proverbial social climb as futility at its finest. Suddenly, I see gold in the sweat on my father’s brow and the faith in my mother’s heart and honor in the depths of their humility. The simplicity of their existence does not evoke shame in the same manner it used to . . .
It’s quite tempting to pretend that I’ve settled into a place of utter resolve and that I am no longer disenchanted with my roots (in fact, I almost did in the last paragraph). However, if I am honest, the radical shift in my perception has not entirely freed me from the agitation and discomfort I sometimes feel when I reflect on my family and city of origin and the events surrounding it.
Venturing through the fragments of memory that comprise this paradox feels a bit like strolling down Broadway stark naked with the sun spotlighting every blemish. This abash journey of self-discovery is fueled by an ever-growing urgency to settle into my skin and live as authenticity as possible. I would not even step foot on this epic road if I didn’t fervently believe that reconciling with my roots can (and will) open worlds of contentment and understanding (not only of myself, but of humanity at large). And so my intent is to continue to walk (eyes-wide-open) through the pages of my life- the events and people and places that led me here . . . to this desk and this moment.
Yes, it is my mission to revel in the mosaic of my life; even the darkest colors.