Born-Raised-Lived-Died: My Greatest Fear

I was going to write about this topic even before the despicable events of Charlottesville, VA. Now it feels even more timely and relevant.

I freak out about spiders and jellyfish, but my greatest fear has nothing to do with creepy-crawlies or stinging sea critters. I call it “Born-raised-lived-died.”

Born-raised-lived-died is the unfortunate tendency, easily noticed in the South and in rural, economically disadvantaged areas, to be born and raised, to live out one’s life, and to die all in the same 50-to-100-mile radius. Some people never leave the town where they were born.

[A significant portion of my readership just felt slapped; y’all are bristling with the implication that it’s somehow wrong to live in the same place all one’s life. It feels like it’s your choice, and nobody else’s business anyway. But is that really true, on either count? Keep reading.]

This problem is not limited to one region of the United States, nor to the United States itself. This is a globally observable phenomenon, and it is one of humanity’s biggest hobbles when it comes to creating an accepting, peaceful future where all are respected and allowed to live openly as themselves. We have to build a world where people can move around freely…if they don’t, neither do ideas, and acceptance of and compassion for Otherness will continue to progress far too slowly.

Born-raised-lived-died gives rise to terribly insular cultures (pick up my book, Pale Wolf’s Gift, for a pretty typical example re: Southern evangelical culture in particular). I’m gonna take the time to define “insular” for you here, as per Google, because it’s a damning — and absolutely appropriate — term:

ignorant of or uninterested in cultures, ideas, or peoples outside one’s own experience.
“a stubbornly insular farming people”
synonyms: narrow-minded, small-minded, inward-looking, parochial, provincial, small-town, shortsighted, hidebound, blinkered

Look at those synonyms! Ouch — but it’s all generally true. Outsiders are not welcome — and neither are ideas that bump against the status quo. Change is something to be resisted at all costs. Difference becomes division; “Us vs. Them” is a recurring theme, where “Them” includes everyone who looks, thinks, worships, loves, or just plain lives differently than the “Us” in power. These hurtful divisions are passed down, generation after generation, and the people carrying them forward can’t even see what they’re doing.

These bubbles that people choose to live in — for so many generations that eventually to do otherwise just seems such an alien concept that it isn’t done — are so limiting that I didn’t even talk at length with anyone of a different faith or political party until I got to college. “Ran away” to college would be more apt, because for those who do think or feel differently, these cultures are absolutely suffocating. The damage lingers even if one manages to escape to a place where their views and lifestyle are welcomed with open arms.

I still feel drawn to the culture from whence I came — not the political, religious, or ethical views, per se, but the traditions and the family all in one area. I miss my family and wish it was easier to travel to see them regularly. I miss out on so many important events; I want to be Cousin Mel and hold all the squishy babies and attend every wedding and graduation and just come over/host people because it’s Saturday and I can. These things are so attractive (my Clifton Strengths are mostly soft skills like Includer; can you tell?) that I yearn for them despite knowing I would never be truly happy living “back home” for the rest of my days.

Don’t get me wrong: I would adore spending time with my loved ones (so much!) but my soul would always be peeking over the edge of the born-raised-lived-died box. Whenever I felt torn (go or stay? family or freedom?) growing up, ultimately I was always terrified that I would feel, at the end of it all, that I’d failed myself by staying put. (I dated two very nice guys, one in high school and one in college before I met my now-husband, and ended up breaking it off each time because I realized they were very much the born-raised-lived-died type. They had no curiosity about life in other places, no desire to travel and grow. I cared for them but I could not chain my soul or my feet.)

I still haven’t “arrived” someplace (geographically speaking) where my views are respected, somewhere the colors of the local tapestry are bright and diverse enough to want to make it a home base (I will always travel when I can)…but at least I have journeyed. My current city is 1400 miles from where I was before. I’ve traveled to other countries and experienced life (and people!) there. I’ve been to liberal places, conservative places, mixed-all-in-between places. I’ve been a minority for years in the area where I currently reside, and that too has been eye-opening in its way.

Travel is expensive. Economic factors tend to make people more isolated, because if you can’t afford to travel or live somewhere else, anywhere else, how are you supposed to know what else is out there?? I get that. I have been fortunate that opportunities have been provided for me (I still can’t afford to travel across the ocean on my own or to do any of the other things I’d really love to experience, at least not yet) — and here’s my advice: If you get an unexpected chance to go, see, do…almost anything, anywhere else — GO! Do it! Not every travel experience or new place has been awesome or even good, but I still don’t regret any of them, because every experience broadens my worldview and allows movement and reshaping of thoughts and ideas.

Nations are arbitrary boundaries. So is “Dixie.” So are state lines and all of the other ways we divide ourselves, separating ourselves from our brothers and sisters in humankind. The more you travel, the more you see that. Please, please don’t live your entire life on one tiny patch of this glorious, beautiful world. If you insist on living your whole life within that insular radius, at least travel outside of it whenever possible! You owe it to yourself and to humankind to break the bonds of born-raised-lived-died and experience the world so that you might grow in compassion for those who don’t live like you.

A dear aunt recently brought to my attention the Pentatonix version of “Imagine.” It’s really something.

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for…

Imagine all the people sharing all the world…”

We shouldn’t have to imagine what it’s like to live without hatred of differences keeping us apart from one another. “Born-raised-lived-died” perpetuates culture wars and small-mindedness. The local radio station reflects that, the news station reflects that, the stores reflect that, the schools and churches reflect that, everywhere you go within your bubble reflects and reinforces whatever the bubble holds dear.

You know what? Bubbles burst. And people escape through their filmy boundaries. The world is becoming more of a global community, like it or not. The more I see, the more I like. Try it! Maybe then, instead of doubling down on positions designed to push the “Them” du jour further away, folks could focus on building bridges and solving world issues together — hunger, lack of access to clean water, sanitation and health needs, education…the list is so long, and we can’t get there if we huddle inside our invisible walls and bubbles and refuse to acknowledge the wide world around us.

Get moving.

2 thoughts on “Born-Raised-Lived-Died: My Greatest Fear

  1. Got here via Elizabeth Addison’s link. I relate a lot to this fear–I too “ran away” to college, and I live in Baltimore now largely because some part of me felt like I would be a failure if I stayed in NC my whole life. But I wonder–precisely because this was a fear of mine–if I shouldn’t be more suspicious of it. Everything you say about disenfranchisement of people in poor rural communities due to travel costs and other barriers is spot on, but why did I grow up feeling like I had to leave in order to make something of myself? Shouldn’t I have been able to live a life of wide intellectual boundaries even if I hadn’t left to live in another state? Do I feel contempt for people who were BRLD in my hometown, and if so what is that contempt based on? In a world where the internet exists even in the tiniest cricks and hollers, it seems like I should have been able to go away and then come back and not feel diminished by that choice. But when I did come back after college, I was just waiting for the chance to get out of the area permanently. Yet I feel so horrifically homesick sometimes now–not for my family, my parents moved away a long time ago–but for the way the cicadas sang and the crickets buzzed in the swamps on hwy 63 going into Wendell. Things like that. I’m not sure if I feel like I’m better off for having left that behind or not, though I know I wouldn’t have such fond feelings about said swamps and insects if I hadn’t left.

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    1. You raise good points. There could be several lifetimes’ worth of unpacking to be done wrt all of the variables that go into these formative impressions and lingering emotions, I think. I also understand those feelings very well, re: the swamps, the cicadas, the tree-lined, lushly sun-dappled and green-scented summer highways…it’s such a push-and-pull.

      Eloquent, as always — I’m so glad you stopped by to share your thoughts (thank you)!

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