What should it mean for all of us? Place shouldn’t be just one more choice among the smorgasbord of choices in our modern liberal democracy. While God may call us away from our home, we still need to recognize that God gave us this place rather than that one. As St. Gregory the Great said, “Things are not to be loved for the sake of a place, but places are to be loved for the sake of their good things.” I grew up in a particular place, among a particularpeople and this is what makes it good and worthy of my remaining close to it.
Thus, while our duty is first to God and God’s call, duties and vocations are never abstract. Duties and vocations are incarnated in concrete circumstances and, very often, will be incarnated in the very place God gives to us. If we live our lives with this sort of intentionality and discernment, we may still end up journeying far. But many of us may never leave or like Rod, we may end up returning home.
Conor knows what he’s talking about here. He and his wife gave up a professionally successful and personally gratifying life in Washington, DC, to return to his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thanks, Conor, for your generous words about my book.
This morning, an Alabama friend passed on this great short essay titled, “Three Reasons Why You Can’t Beat Small Town Life.” Excerpt:
There is something special about these folks and this area.
When Hurricane Ivan blasted through Wolf Bay Lodge (one of our favorite places to eat), some of the things that blew away in the storm were the more than 10,000 one-dollar bills that had been signed and stapled to the ceiling throughout the past 20 years.
No one knows how many were lost at sea, but of the bills that were spread over 30 miles of coastline, 7,500 of them were returned.
That’s right. More than 7,500 one-dollar bills were returned by people who said, “We saw the bill was signed, so we knew it belonged to you.”
That is awesome — and I could totally see it happening here in St. Francisville. The author of that essay, Andy Andrews, goes on to say that he loves living in his town because this is where his family’s history is, and everything reminds him of his family and their particular place in the world:
Daddy took me to Frith’s bait shop to buy our live shrimp when I was a little boy.
Soon after Mama and Daddy died, I worked there for a while, selling those shrimp by the dozen under the watchful eye of Mr. Frith.
Now, I take my little boys in to buy shrimp from Mr. Frith’s son, Butch. I could catch them myself, but Butch shakes their hands and teases them about the size of the fish in the stories they tell.
It’s worth whatever I have to pay to feel that sense of my daddy in that shop watching the grandsons he never got to meet.
Last night I was having dinner with my old friend Laura, who lives with her British husband and son in England, but who is back in town visiting family this month. She was talking about the passage in Little Way in which I described the sights, smells, tastes, and sensory experiences of the baseball parks on the Vinci property, where our generation of West Feliciana kids played summer-league baseball. Laura said — and I’ve heard this a fair amount from local people of my generation — that the descriptions were intensely evocative of that time and place here. People haven’t played ball there in decades, and I suppose it’s all grown over with trees and vines. The new ballpark is beautiful, but it is soulless. What we had then no kid will ever have again. It is a great pleasure to talk to people I grew up with about all the fun we had at those old ballparks. It was our place, for a time.