This comes up more than you might think. Fifteen years in, I still hear some variation of "y'all ain't from here, are ya..." at least once a month. If not that, then it's some version of the above, as if there is something wrong with me, or "here," or both.
Of course it could also be seen as a reasonable question. I've been all over the world, and I'm somewhere between hundreds and thousands of miles from the two places that have always felt most like home: Upstate New York, and France. My perspective on things is often so far from the supposed norm that I am often reminded that culture shock can occur within one's own borders.
Yet I'm not sure any of that matters. Well, the hundreds of miles do– my parents are entirely too far away, and I miss them terribly. But I can read, play music, ride horses, write, teach, as easily here as anywhere. Besides, my New York isn't all that different from Kentucky and in fact, lies just outside the northern edge of Appalachia. If you don't believe me, look at these four photos and take a quiz: New York or Kentucky? (answers below)
So... if I can be myself anywhere, and if people are people wherever you go, then why me, here, now? Because. Because I have this conviction that this is where I'm supposed to be. Call it faith, call it coincidence, I don't care. It's what I believe. Would it be easier to live where I'm not the one with the accent, where religion is more diverse than a profusion of Baptist churches, where Democrats could conceivably win elections?
Maybe Probably Almost certainly. But would it be better? Would it be right?
I don't think it would. If I weren't here, some people would never get to meet a tree-hugging, left-leaning, outspoken, feminist Yankee with an attitude. Worse, I would never have met them. My perspective would be limited, my ability to think through complex problems constrained. Everyone would still be safely ensconced in their comfort zones, and what's the good of that? After all, we are called to meet the stranger, wherever and whoever he or she may be.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in my work as a professor at a faith-based liberal arts college. On the surface, I imagine it looks about like the proverbial square peg and round hole, particularly as I'm not about to round off my sharp edges. Yet in spite, or perhaps because of that, I believe I am exactly where I need to be. If life is all about making room for others, then I can live my faith here as in few other places. Above all, I can show my students that there is nothing to fear in being the unique, intelligent, inspired beings we humans were created to be.
Could I do this anywhere, at any time? Probably. But that's not the point. The point is that I am here now, and that's the way it's supposed to be.
1) New York (my parents' house) 2) Kentucky (view from my front porch) 3) New York (just off I-86) 4) Kentucky (on bridge looking toward Cincinnati)