A while before i moved to the States, someone told me it would be hard to stand at any one point of the country and say 'ah ha, now this is America.' And he was right. How do you sum up a single country that contains the Harvard scholar and the Idaho potato farmer? The Carolina NASCAR fan and the California environmentalist? You can't. But whoever told me that didn't tell me something else thats equally true. It's hard to stand in any single state and say 'ah ha, now this is North Carolina.'
My adopted home state is a good example, split into one hundred counties and three regions of almost equal size, culture and the way of life on one side of the state are very different on the other. In the west you have the mountain region, full of, well, mountains, the middle part of the state is known as Piedmont, and contains the Triangle area, a zone containing all but one of the largest cities in the state, and about the only region left in the country where industry is still growing. Slowly the cities turn to farms, and the farms to beaches and you've reached the coastland region, where i live. Put your figure almost anywhere on a map of eastern North Carolina and you're pointing at the middle of nowhere. The eastern part of the state has it's own feel, it's own food, it's own way of life. People here still farm, hunt and fish meaningfully, men wear cowboy boots to church. Barbecue in eastern Carolina is totally different to barbecue in western Carolina, and nothing life what i grew up calling barbecue.
North Carolina is different from itself, as you might expect from a state probably only slightly smaller than a European country. And the people are different too, open, warm and funny. This was driven home to me clearly last night. It was about 1115, and my next door neighbour was standing at the top of the steps that lead to the first floor apartments enjoying the cool evening air. We've had two weeks of 80-90F days, and this week had been full of tornadoes and thunderstorms, but yesterday evening was perfect. Cool, clear and with a wonderful breeze. A great night for standing out.
I hadn't spoken to him much before but last night we chatted for ages about the weather, the economy, the state of the parking lot, his acting career. Then he mentioned, quite matter of factly, that in the past week he had suffered two awful family tragedies. We'd covered four to six weeks of British conversation in half an hour. All this presents a problem. What do you do with people that are, in effect, inoculated to the Gospel? People who know just enough to make them feel alright, but not enough to get sick on it? With people who are happy to stand and pray with you, but never darkened the door of a church building? I'm still not clear whether this ingrained respect for Church as an institution is helpful or not in the long run. Not sure at all.
As for me and my neighbor. I'll keep praying, we'll keep talking, and maybe one day soon i'll get to ring a bell of my own...
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