Where Are You From?

Denton, Texas

Where are you from?

Depending on who’s asking, I may answer McKinney (where I live), Denton (where I go to church and do most of my group practice), Dallas (the nearest major city), or Texas (everyone knows where Texas is).  When a British train conductor asked if I was Canadian, I said “I’m American.”

Where are you from?

I came here from Atlanta and before that I lived in northern Indiana.  I moved there from Chattanooga, which is where I was born and grew up.

Where are you from?

My father’s family traces our ancestry through James Beckett, who immigrated to this country from what is now Northern Ireland around 1800.  My cousins who study genealogy say his ancestors came from Scotland.  Beyond that I go back to the migrations of Normans, Saxons, Celts and Picts.  Go back 70,000 years or so and I have ancestors who first walked out of Africa.

Where are you from?

The question has many answers.  The story of humanity is the story of immigrants and refugees, the story of colonists and conquerors.

But sometimes when we ask this question – especially when we ask ourselves – we’re not asking about origins and migrations.  The questions we’re really asking are “where do you belong?” and “where is home?”

where I grew up – circa 1988

For me, that answer has always been Tennessee.  I grew up wandering through the hills and trees, admiring the rivers and lakes, exploring the mountains and caves.  Though the winters are mild there are four seasons, and the burst of green in the spring and the brilliant colors in the fall are amazing.  This is where I developed my love of Nature and this is where I feel Nature’s pull the strongest.  Most of my family and many of my friends still live there – their pull is strong as well.  This is home.

I felt at home living in Georgia.  The land is very similar – the dirt is just a lot redder. I feel at home in the hills of Pennsylvania where the OBOD East Coast Gathering is held, though if I had to live there through a winter I might feel differently.  I felt at home in Wales, but not in London (too urban) or in Galway (it’s lovely, but the ocean will always be a foreign place to me).

I’ve been here for twelve years, but Texas has never felt like home.

rural North Texas

Just to be clear:  North Texas is not West Texas.  While the summers are extremely hot (a typical July or August high is in the low 100s and the low may not drop below 80), we get 35 inches of rain a year on average.  It’s drier than the Southeast but it isn’t a desert.  Before we started paving it over, the land was mostly prairie with mesquite and live oak trees.  And while there are no mountains, the land isn’t flat the way the Midwest is flat.

Still, as Michi pointed out in her recent comment, the land is different here – different from Tennessee and different from her native Louisiana.  Part of that is the climate, part is the underlying geology, and part is the different flora and fauna this land can support.

Texas doesn’t feel like home.  But I belong in Texas.

Like so many immigrants, I came here for a job.  That job is still going and while nothing is certain in today’s economy, the long-term outlook is good.  My house is here, my UU church is here, my CUUPS group is here and I have many friends here.  This is where my spiritual practice went from seeker to Druid and priest, where I started writing, and where I’ve made connections with like-minded folks around the world.  And this is home for Cathy.  She was born in Dallas and much of her family is in the area.

I belong here and I plan on staying here.  So like my ancestors who left where they were from to build a new life somewhere else, it’s long past time to make Texas home.

I’ve never had an issue with the spirits of this land – we seem to get along just fine.  But while my animist friends might disagree, the spirits of the land aren’t the same thing as the land itself.  Still, if I work to strengthen the relations between us – through offerings and meditations – I imagine I’ll begin to see the land more like they do, and this will begin to feel more like home.

my back yard

I talk a lot about spending time outside, and I enjoy walking, following the sun and moon, and holding individual and group rituals outside.  But at least for now, I think I need to shift my emphasis from “going outside and doing this or that” to just “going outside.”  There is a beauty to this land.  It’s not the same beauty as Tennessee, but it is beautiful in its own way.  I need to learn to see that beauty, and to feel it.  While there are no forests or mountains nearby, there are some nice parks, and I’m rather fond of my own back yard.

The interaction of humans with a place has a tremendous impact on how other humans – and other creatures – experience it.  When you grow up in a place, you experience its heritage and you learn its history.  When you move there as an adult, that comes much harder – particularly in a place that’s as new and as fast-growing as the Dallas – Fort Worth area.  But I happen to live with someone who has a degree in history from the University of Texas – Dallas, so I have a nice assortment of Texas history books to choose from.

I’m well aware that much of Texas history – and its contemporary politics – doesn’t line up particularly well with my values.  So be it.  If I’m going to live here, I need to understand the bad as well as the good.  Plus I’m a spiritual descendant of the folks who founded the Denton Unitarian Fellowship in 1949 – I’m proud to continue the tradition of promoting liberal religion and progressive ideas in Texas.  Besides, demographics are catching up with the far right… just not fast enough.

I haven’t lived in Tennessee in almost 20 years, although I visit there a couple times every year.  It will always be where I’m from, and it will always have a special place in my heart.  But it’s time to make Texas my home.

So, where are you from?  Where do you belong?  Are you home?  If you aren’t, do you need to go home or do you need to make a home where you are?

Print Friendly

About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.

  • Denise LeGendre

    So, where are you from? Where do you belong? Are you home? If you aren’t, do you need to go home or do you need to make a home where you are?

    I grew up in Southeastern Pennsylvania and am very comfortable in the Delaware watershed. I’ve visited the Poconos many times and love the mountains there. Have lived in Southeastern Ohio and found it an incredibly beautiful area. I even lived in western Kansas for a while and can’t claim to have loved it but yes, it has real beauty. And yet – Central Pennsylvania has always had an inexplicable pull. The Susquehanna River was a source of delight and wonder from the very first time I saw her. No matter how many times I see her, she evokes the same awe. When I am walking the mountains and forests of her watershed, I feel different. Content. At peace. Why? What is different there? The Delaware is an unquestionably beautiful river. Pittsburgh’s rivers and mountains are lovely. The Mississippi is majestic. But none evoke the same sense of wonder mingled with affection. My gut feeling is that a connection with place, with the Land and with it’s Spirits, is not simply a choice we make but also one of mutuality. The Land and Spirits aren’t neutral. Of course, making an effort to connect will make a difference and yes, it is possible to build a relationship with the land wherever we find ourselves but perhaps, in some places, there is a mutual attraction from the start. Those who are able to find and put roots down in such a place are truly blessed.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I’m lucky enough to live and work where I’m from–in fact, I’m writing this from my office at work, in the town where I grew up and graduated from high school twenty years ago. I was born on this island, not far from here (and not far from where my first teaching job was–in fact, within a quarter of a mile of it!), and I live on the next island north of here. These two islands have always felt “mine,” and I’m very literally married to this land in so many ways…which makes leaving difficult, and the prospect of getting jobs elsewhere tough to consider. However, I hope the next job that I get (in the Seattle suburbs) ends up being a good one, and it still allows me to easily access this area. All of the western part of Washington state feels like home to me, including Seattle, but I’ll always be a rural, small-town, quite-literally-”pagan” person at heart.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      On one hand, Tennessee is where I developed my love of Nature and where I feel closest to Nature – it is home. On the other hand, it is home – it has baggage. I don’t think I ever could have done the things I’ve done if I had never left, to say nothing of the life-expanding experiences I’ve had by living in different parts of the country.

      I cried when I drove away from our house in Chattanooga for the last time in 1995. We built it on the land where I grew up – it was maybe 500 yards behind the house in the picture here. It was relatively small, but it had a full basement we intended to finish for more living space. It hurt leaving – my grand plans for life were disrupted.

      The 2 years 4 months 9 days I spent in Indiana (but hey, who’s counting?) were miserable – a bad job in a bad location working with some genuinely bad people. Escaping to Atlanta was the manifestation of my dreams. I was happy there, but I was already starting to get bored when that job went away and we moved here.

      Texas has been good to me in so many ways, but it’s never felt like home. It’s time to change that.

      Off to read Gone To Texas by Randolph Campbell.

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        Disqus ate me reply…dang.

        In any case, I know what you mean. Having thought about it a bit, I realize that some of the most important moments of spiritual growth and discovery I’ve had were away from home: my “coming-into-my-own” as a Pagan happened during my first semester of college outside New York city. In the years that followed, I deepened that; I went to Oxford and had some important experiences; I had some true spiritual trials during my two years in Spokane for my M.A. with the Jesuits; I had some great experiences in Ireland (including “discovering” Antinous in 2002, not long after I returned there from a visit home!) and the related travel I did (including a pilgrimage to Hadrian’s Wall!) during those years of my Ph.D.; and the truly purgatorial four months I had a job in Michigan ended up getting me closer to the Trophimoi.

        More on that: I knew before I went to Michigan that Antinous had wanted me to go there for some specific reason. It was so awful I was getting close to thinking I’d just walk away from the whole thing toward the end of February (I arrived on January 4th); and then in early March, I found out that the newest, best preserved, and only statue head of Polydeukion in the U.S. was in my very town. Things have not been the same since…but the remaining two months were still a very tough slog.

        When I came home each time, though, some important consolidation occurred with each of these experiences. My one during the two weeks between first and second semester of my first year of college was especially so.

        So, indeed, the kind of “adventures” I’ve had have tended to be away from home. Interesting…and yet, this is home, and I’ve known that all my life.

        In any case, you and I are both old storytellers, and I suspect we could come up with a thousand stories about these lands we love, the lands we’ve been to, and the lands we hope to more fully inhabit in the future. ;)

      • yewtree

        Best book EVER for getting in touch with your local land (spirits / wights / -scape ) has to be The Art of Conversation with the Genius Loci by Barry Patterson. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

  • pagansister

    When someone asks me where I’m from, I can only tell them where I was born. :-) Then I ask them “what year”? I’ve lived in 8 states in my lifetime, and only one was lived in longer than a few years. Next to last state was 18 years in one place until we moved back to FL. for the 2nd time but not in either of the cities that I have previously lived in. This is the last state and last move! Retired. For me that question is not an easy question to answer!

  • yewtree

    I am from Hampshire, UK. I was born and raised there, and my ancestors were from there (though they moved gradually eastwards from Cornwall during the 17th and 18th centuries). The underlying geology of chalk is also important to me.

    I currently live in Oxford. I love Oxford, it is a wonderful place, and I feel very at home here. It’s not too far from chalk hills.

    I have moved around quite a bit, mostly in the UK (Lancaster, Cambridge, Scotland, London, Bristol, Bath). I also spent two months in Germany.

    Oxford feels the most like home. i just wish it was a bit nearer the sea – I love the sea.

    A brief note: it has become almost impossible to ask a person of colour where they are from without sounding racist, at least in the UK. This is because racists ask that question with the unspoken implied sequitur “…and when are you going back there?” Whereas, if I asked someone where they were from, it would be because I was genuinely interested in their culture. But I wait for them to tell me what their background is. And obviously a lot of people of colour were born in the UK, so they are just as likely to name a town in the UK – quite rightly.

    I have also had people ask about my surname, “is that a foreign name?” Er, no, it isn’t.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      I once asked a co-worker where he was from. He assumed I meant his family heritage and said “India”. I was surprised, because his accent said he had been born in the US… which, it turns out, he had. He was used to people asking one question – I asked a different one.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

    I love this post. Wish I had the time/space to write a companion post!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      And I’d love to read it, but you’ve got your hands rather full right now. Maybe in a couple months.

  • http://francesbillinghurst.blogspot.com.au/ Frances Billinghurst

    I’m a displaced New Zealander whose spent almost half of my adult life living amongst the dust and heat of Australia whilst longing for the native bush and natural creek of my childhood. On the two occasions I’ve been fortunate to visit Britain, the land of my ancestors, I’ve experienced such a deep aching that its been difficult for me to return to my land of dust and when I do, it is often with much regret and sadness. Yet, my house is here, my friends and those I work with are here, my spiritual awakening took place here, my work is here. Still my soul remains restless.

  • Agni Ashwin

    You can take the boy out of Georgia….


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X