Posted by: topher274 | July 31, 2011

The Undiscovered Country

William Shakespeare once described death as the “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” Indeed those things that come after this life are mysterious and hidden, and it seems that only on the rarest of occasions do we glimpse bliss in this life. Sometimes, God, in his mercy, love, and delight, shows us his heart in ways we don’t quite expect.

I was born and raised in Connecticut. Raised in Connecticut and now I live in Texas. I’m not gonna lie, it was kind of demoralizing. Texas has a reputation for many things, but for me these were mostly negative connotations: bigness (compensation?), friendliness (shallowness?), traditional gender roles (oppression?) Republicanism (republicanism?), etc. I’ve lived here for 7 months now and I have felt and kind of a perpetual uncomfortablity here that sometimes manifests more strongly, sometimes less.

The majority of Texans I’ve met have been normal people, probably because most of them are from urban/suburban Dallas, which is just like any other city. Few of them are the stereotypical Texans like those for whom I’d felt cultural antipathy. In my whole life, I think I’ve only met 3 such people who first seemed like they belonged in that box. And in getting to know them, everything has changed in my feelings and understanding of this place.

David, Diane, and a girl I met many years ago in Kansas City whose name I cannot recall are… well, they are the real thing. In each of my conversations with them over the months I’ve known them (Dave and Diane, that is – I’ve never seen that KC girl again), I have found them to be characterized by something I could not understand: deep, strong, guileless love for Texas. I could hardly relate to how a person could feel that way about a place. Where I come from, patriotism itself is looked down upon, and love for one’s state is pretty much unheard of. When I listened to what sounded like sincere gratitude for being from this place, I felt very much like someone on the outside looking in.

Until tonight.

After a 2 hour lesson in the Texas two-step, we headed up to Fort Worth to an authentic, albeit touristy area called the Stockyards. It was like walking into another country. The sights, smells, the dress of people was just, well, so foreign-looking to me. I was doing my best to drink up all the culture like a good Intercultural Studies major, but I could still feel my own internal resistance to it.  I saw a life-sized cast statue of a cowboy riding a steer. Not far away there was a real live Longhorn steer with a little saddle for children to get their pictures taken. There was a barbecue restaurant where I had half a pound of brisket and some blackberry cobbler. But then it was time to stare down the biggest cultural monument of them all.

We walked up to Billy Bob’s: the world’s largest honky tonk. Inside, there were hundreds, even thousands of people. There were giant screens playing a baseball game. There were glowing neon signs for beer. There was (of course) country music playing. There were men and women in cowboy hats and boots. And people everywhere, some playing pool, some by the multiple bars, but most surrounding the dance floor where two or three couples were impressively dancing with fast twirls and tricks to the recorded music before the live band started.

I felt so overcome by the differentness of it all, feeling almost threatened by the smells, the music, the neon. I looked over to Diane, my cross-cultural broker for the evening, almost half-expecting (hoping?) her to soothe my cultural claustrophobia and say that this place was too crowded or loud or weird or strange or touristy or anything – anything that could have amounted to a splash of ocean for this fish out of water. I looked over and saw something quite different.

With flashing, keen, wide eyes she leaned over in a half-whisper half-yell (over the music) to tell me in a surprisingly thoughtful, reflective way that all of this: the music, the people, the boots, the cowboy hats, the big screen tv playing baseball, even the neon beer signs at the bar, all of this was home to her.

Home. In that one unexpected word, everything changed. The hostility I felt toward the place, my defensiveness and suspicions gave way to an experience of open-hearted love for this culture and people. I stepped out on that dance floor and started to dance my faltering two-step with each of the different girls in our group and my heart started to swell. I was no longer in a foreign country; I was in the home of my friends.

I wish I had it in me to talk about the indoor bull-riding arena where I saw my first bull-riding (amazing and terrifying are two words to describe it), to talk about my amazing dance partners one by one, talk about the rich conversations and interchanges all evening, but there’s just so very much.

Suffice it to say, this morning I had just as much dislike and/or apathy for this state, people and culture of Texas as ever. But now, after a downright spiritual experience at the world’s largest honky tonk, I have come to know the joy, acceptance, fun and pleasure that truly images what we all are looking for in life.

Tonight, I have befriended Texas. I have found it to be a glimpse of that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

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Responses

  1. I found your blog!! :)


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