The other day I did an interview with the Acculturated podcast folks, in which I talked about The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming, and what my sister’s story taught me about place and mobility in American life. Here’s an excerpt that caught the attention of the Acton Institute’s blog; writer Joseph Sunde notes that in trying to discern whether or not one should stay in one’s town, leave it, or return to it, one has to balance our individual calling with the basic human need for community. A quote from my Acculturated interview:
I don’t think there is a pat formula for this sort of thing. In my sister’s case, she always knew that she was born to stay here. This is the place that made her happy, St. Francisville. Me, I had to get out of here and prove myself in the world in order to be able to come back, and, as readers of the book will see, there was a lot of tension between my sister and me over this. She had a lot of resentment against me for leaving town and leaving the family. She took it as a personal rejection and we were never able to fully resolve that before she died, and that’s one of my deepest regrets in life.
I’ve tried to tell her daughter, Hannah, who is 19—Hannah is also as restless as I was—I’ve told her, don’t ever feel guilty that you have to stay here to do what the family wants you to do, because maybe God has a call on your life to go elsewhere: to New York to New Orleans to Paris, or maybe just down the road to Baton Rouge. The fact is, each of us has a call on his or her life and that’s what you should listen to.
On the other hand, do not accept what we might call in religious terms “the false Gospel of American prosperity”—the idea that life is meant to be limitless, that you are exactly what you choose and that you can freely choose and choose and choose and there are no ultimate limits on the way you live. We can’t live that way. Death will come for all of us…
…I would simply say to young people who are getting ready to make these choices themselves as they go out in life, do what you’re called to do, look deep inside your heart, pray if you pray, and do what you feel led to do, but never ever forget that we are all dependent on each other. We are dependent on God and we are dependent on each other. The day will come in your life when you will need your neighbor and you’re going to need your family. Always keep that in mind.
Full Acculturated podcast here. Some people want me to be a purist about the issue of moving home, or, if I fail to be a purist, they see me as a hypocrite. In the book, however, my father, who sacrificed his own talents and dreams to serve his family, concedes for the first time ever what this cost him, and his doubts, very late in his life, that he made the right choice. There is no simple answer to these questions. I do know that I could never have been happy in my hometown, as I am today, if I hadn’t gone out into the world first. Ruthie held it against me that I left, but as you’ll see in the book, she prepared at least some of her students to leave home and make their way in the world far from West Feliciana. One of Ruthie’s former students comes from a very troubled family, and understandably doesn’t see a homecoming as possible for her. As I said, there is not one solution that fits everyone. I do think, though, that the dominant ethos among educated contemporary Americans tells us to leave home. I think we should question this, and question it hard. But we should also be prepared for the answer, “Yes, you should leave home, at least for a season.”