I’m a stranger here. My accent, which makes people down home sometimes ask me if I’m from “somewhere up north,” here slips out strangely soft and gentle. I didn’t even think about it, but when I addressed the people behind me in line as “y’all,” I branded myself a stranger.
Some people are born in a place, and that place is their home, inexorably. They don’t leave. Other people set out to find home, choose a location based on statistics or geography or demographics or some other factor and, by determined effort, make that place their home. For most people, though, it seems that home happens by accident: job or school or family draw them somewhere they don’t necessarily mean to stay, and then they wake up one day and find out that “somewhere” has become “home” without their even noticing.
Home happened that way for me. It was never a place I thought I’d live. I remember that as I think of the associations which might come with the location on my name tag: obesity, poor school systems, the murdered civil-rights activist they’re remembering this week, the left-over plantation culture, the big muddy river. Before it became my home, I didn’t really associate anything with “Mississippi.”
Now it’s a collection of faces, infinitely dear. Voices that make me smile. Buildings which have somehow shaped the contours of my soul, so that I fit into them like fingers into gloves. Trees with leaves that all wave recognition when I pass.
I’ve been exhaling its air with every breath, crying out its water in my tears, for the better part of eight years, so that now my soul is somehow soothed by the very fact of its existence. I’m a stranger here, but I came from home, and I’m going back again.
Y’all — I usually avoid writing “y’all,” but today it seems appropriate — y’all, dearly as I love it, Mississippi is not, not really, my home.
Even if I live there all the rest of my mortal days, I’m not going to be there forever. I’m going somewhere else. Promised Land bound, I am, on my way to the house not made with hands. And such is the grace of that House Builder, He gives the air of that place for me to breathe, even now; He offers the waters of that place to soothe my thirst, free of charge.
When I fill my lungs with that air, when that is the water I cry in my tears — and, ah, He’s a conservationist, that Builder: He collects my tears in a bottle — then I find my soul soothed, somehow, by the very fact of the existence of that place.
I’m a stranger here, but I’m going home.