ON A BEASTLY HOT/HUMID JUNE DAY in Ervine, Kentucky, we were devouring sandwiches and iced drinks at a small air-conditioned coffee shop. Sitting across from me was my niece, Vicky; many years ago she picked this area as the perfect place to live, work, and create community, nestled in a “holler” (a small valley between two mountains). My nephew, David, sitting to my right, settled in southern California nearly 20 years ago and has never looked back. Both of them are sophisticated, savvy, and successful. Their mom, my sister Nancy, sitting to my left, recently retired from university life to a cottage just a stone’s throw from Vicky’s family.
Nancy and I were smiling, listening to animated descriptions of some of the more “interesting personalities” who had attended the past three days of a wedding celebration hosted on the large parcel of land where Vicky and her husband and children homestead.
There was lots of laughter and some fun-poking and head-shaking as first David and then Vicky and then David again added a new detail to the verbal caricatures that emerged like holograms hovering over our table.
Then came the moment when Vicky said it: “Ya gotta love ‘em.”
To which I replied, in an irreverent tone, “Or not.” Given the momentum of the conversation I had thought my comment would be picked up and run with and followed by more amusing details.
Instead, my comment had the effect of puncturing the hologram. It lay, deflated, on the table between us. Vicky’s brown eyes, deep and dark as the folds of the valleys in which she has chosen to live, held my blue eyes until I said, “You’re serious, aren’t you.”
Vicky said, “That’s the code by which we live here: you gotta love the people in front of you. You may not like them, but you have to love them.”
The message was: Despite your own disapproval and annoyance at the personality traits, the neediness, the political differences, the selfishness, the brokenness of those people who cross your path, no matter how you’re tempted to marginalize them, “Ya gotta love ‘em.”
Never have I heard the gospel – the good news of human relationships – preached so succinctly and so profoundly.
If I can believe that this is not the only place; if I can believe that there are other pockets of our culture, hidden away like Kentucky hollers, where this gospel is embedded in the community conscience and lived out daily this dynamically, I can allow myself to have hope for the people of our world.
Ya gotta love ‘em.
Thanks so much, Cynthia, for this reminder of perennial wisdom shared across a lunch table. It touches me deeply.
This speaks to the deepest reason for reconnecting with my father and coming to forgiveness. Long before he had a stroke that brought him to live near me with much help from me, we had come to forgiveness and reconciliation, perhaps far beyond what I’d expected we would. It began with a moment in Pittsburgh, alone in my apartment, alone in a city of closed communities, where I realized that there was love still to be had in my family. Maybe not between everyone, or at least not expressed between everyone, but “you gotta love’em” about summed it up. He was my father, my only living parent. So, I moved back to Seattle to be nearer him. To walk toward him, rather than to keep walking away was the most powerful thing I’ve done in my life. This piece struck many cords with me with it’s powerful images of being challenged in the “or not.” Thank you for sharing.
Love this, Cynthia, mostly because it so eloquently speaks to what Richard and I have found here in Kentucky as well. We really do need to get together when we come to the island this August to talk about this more. I have a theory about how Kentucky’s being a “border state” in the Civil War created a DNA here that gives us an opportunity to live in the “borderlands” as your website suggests. It doesn’t mean that we agree or that it’s easy. But it sure is interesting!
Your eloquent sharing of this simple yet profound moment brought tears to my eyes. This is a kind of Stop You in Your Tracks Moment….an opportunity to deeply reflect and choose again how I want to be, who I want to be in the world. Thank you, Cynthia.
Beautiful. Inclusive. Radical.
And so liberating.
Thank you Cynthia!
Thank you Cynthia for this beautiful vignette of a story…..or really of a way of life.
Lovely to read your homely wisdom, dear friend.
Powerful image that still shimmers in my imagination. I so love your writing and musings.
Beautiful meditation, Cynthia —
I needed this reminder. It reminds me of the song lyrics “love the one you’re with.”
When I’m thoughtless about this, I can slip into only loving those like me or those like the other people I love.
Cynthia as someone who married into a family full of these foibles and differences, I love this. The people of Appalachia are like no other and can teach us all about neighborliness and caring for one another. Thank you!