- Photo: Sara Lovelace
A couple of nights ago I had another one of those phone calls from a friend who has moved to Portland.
I say another one because it is one of the dozens of phone calls in the last ten years that have followed this script:
Them: I don’t know how you can live in the South with all that retrograde bull***t. Don’t you want to live in place where people have the same values you do?
Me: Not really, no.
The big sell ensues: the weather, healing centers, farmers markets, democrats, vegans, spiritualists, atheists, feminists, good, cheap beer and yoga studios on every corner.
You know what the South on every corner? Churches. Baptist churches with frightening signs about the end times on their front lawns. You’ll be on your way to work one hot summer morning, thinking life is pretty good. You’ll pause at a green light and ponder one of these signs. It will creep into your thoughts throughout the day at the office. No matter how great things are that day, you started it with:
It’s not a heatwave, it’s a reminder from Our Lord. Repent or burn!
How can I explain to my Portland friends that part of the joy of living in the South is fearing for your soul every few blocks, if only for a second? How can I convince them that I don’t believe in owning guns, but I adore my friend who does. She’s a Republican housewife who loves making cupcakes and going to the shooting range twice a week. In spite of her horrifying pro-life bumper stickers, I enjoy her company.
In the South you get blessed a lot. A cashier will tell you to have a blessed day. You hold the door for an elderly woman at the grocery store and you’ll get a “God bless you, honey”. If your sixteen-year old daughter gets pregnant on Prom Night, even she will get “bless that child”.
In the South, “bless that child” translates to: you, child, are dumb as a bag of rocks.
I’m not going to defend the South. You could say that it’s filled with racism, misogyny, obesity, poverty, ignorance, and misguided religious fanatics, and you’d be right. I went to Robert E. Lee High School with Klan members. I grew up an hour from Jerry Falwell’s home base, and I was raised by two ministers. Not one, two.
That earned me the title of Double Trouble.
I found ways to live up to this name. In the South, rebellion is a finely crafted art form. There is so very much to rebel against at any given moment. Growing up here made me a spiritual person because, in part, I couldn’t stand the thought of being a religious person. Is my spiritual path a middle finger to a host of Sunday school teachers and pamphlet pushers? Maybe.
You have to pay a high price for deviating from the norm here. I’ve been told I’m going to hell for my downward dogs and peace chants hundreds of times. In Portland, you can find a group of people who hold your most deeply held beliefs just by walking down the street. It has happened to me there before. In Portland I have found so many searchers and mystery hounds like myself. It was a cozy, inspiring place.
I thought, at least a thousand times a day, I could live here. There was no tension, no regional shame. It was all so easy and obvious. Love your community and it will love you back. True peace.
And then I came home to Richmond, VA. When I tried to start my car in the airport parking lot, it was dead. It took two hours for the AAA man to show up. I sat in the parking lot while the still, humid heat cooked me raw. He finally arrived, and smelled of beer. He was dipping, and accidentally spit on the shoes I’d just bought in Portland. He kept looking down at my legs. After a while he commented upon my tattoos, saying that women just don’t look right with them tattoos.
Two weeks in Portland alined my chakras. My yoga was on point. I felt centered, empowered. I had gone to visit the Bitch Magazine headquarters and felt connected to my sisters. I had developed a powerful, spiritual connection with my friends there. I came back a new me. A west coast me. Two hours off the the plane and I handled the situation with compassion and grace. I usually would have lost it.
But a few days after returning to Richmond, I became all unaligned again. I overheard two women at the gym speaking fondly of Sarah Palin. They both agreed that she had what it took to be the next president, “if the democrats would quit bullying her.”
I lost it. Let’s just say it was not my most yogic moment. Months later the women will stop a treadmill dead and dismount if I’m on a treadmill near them.
The South because every interaction has the potential to challenge your most deeply held beliefs, to check in with yourself. Are you willing to defend what you believe in, even if you’re at a friendly dinner party or a night of drinks with ladies? Because it’s going to happen. Constantly.
If you want to live a yogic life it takes practice. The south will school you. Bless you.
Editor: Kelly Brichta