I have always wrestled with the question of whether to go or whether to stay. I love deeply this place and these people where I was born, and yet, I also love deeply the possibility, newness and unknown of other places and people. It is a tension, I believe, I will spend my life learning about and perhaps never fully understand.
In one way of interpreting them, the major world religions often teach we must give up what we want in order to attain our transformation. I have, perhaps, at different times in life used this to justify having one foot in and one foot out, fostering some sort of detachment that keeps me safe from my fear of having what is before me that I love so deeply taken away. But if I want to make an offering of my life, I cannot give what I have not fully received. No. The things I am given are meant for me, given in love to help me — and others — become. Rather than giving up these things that I love, perhaps what is actually asked of me is to receive fully the circumstances of my life, pushing into it and wanting it with every part of myself.
In his essay “A Native Hill,” Wendell Berry writes of his decision to return to his native rural Kentucky from New York. I might as well scratch out “Kentucky” and replace it with “Missouri,” so close are Berry’s feelings to my own. He writes: “I knew I had not escaped Kentucky and had never really wanted to. I was still writing about it and had recognized I would probably need to write about it for the rest of my life. Kentucky was my fate — not an altogether pleasant fate, though it had much that was pleasing in it, but one that I could not leave behind simply by going to another place, and that I therefore felt more and more obligated to meet directly and to understand. Perhaps even more important, I still had a deep love for the place I had been born in, and I liked the idea of going back to be part of it again. And that, too, I felt obligated to try to understand. Why should I love one place so much more than any other? What could be the meaning or the use of such love?”
In this issue, we ask why we should love this one place so much more than any other. We examine what could be the meaning of this love. We put this love to use. This issue celebrates “here” through asking sisters who are 93, 96 and 109 years old what they have learned and loved about living in Bollinger County most of their lives. We probe the beauty of here through admiring Missouri native wildflowers. And we show our pride in this place through sending you on a scavenger hunt throughout our region to find the lovely little worn-in places that feel like home. We hope it opens your heart ever deeper to your belonging to this place, no matter how or when you came to it.
A gift from the pandemic has been the necessity of laying down the burden of options. Having so many possibilities can tempt us to never settle in, to skate along the surface of our lives always wondering “When?” about the next thing. Now, we are asked to live like my grandparents’ generation — what is before us is what we have. These, right here, are our options; this, right here, is our life. I’m not looking anywhere else.
So, let us take up what is already ours. Bless it. Love it. Let us receive it fully, claim it as our own and want it so deeply it hurts. Let us welcome what we have and give up the burden of what could be in order to tend to the reality of what is and has always been.
Perhaps it is only then, by taking it into every cell of our being and letting it matter to us, that we can make an offering of it.