Enough with all that fancy-pantsy music and poetry mumbo-jumbo! This is the final part of my Christian Appalchian Project good-bye, and it’s written in plain old words. I should have written this a while ago, but it’s better late than never, as they say.
Before I left (Holy Moly was that only three weeks ago?), demanding Mike asked me a question. He asked me what I was going to miss most about Kentucky. And I never really answered him. So, if you’re reading this, sir, here’s your answer.
The Top Three things I’ll miss most about Kentucky (with number 1 being the one that I will miss the most!):
3. The Hiking
One thing that I loved about Kentucky was the hiking and all of the cool outdoors-y experiences that I could have there; seeing different types of things that I wouldn’t be able to see in Michigan. I lived right smack in the Daniel Boone National Forest and just a few miles away from Cumberland Falls. There were hiking trails to explore all over the place. Now, Kentucky hikes are usually a lot more work than Michigan hikes, but, as I got used to it, I grew to enjoy that.
I have to say that when I first visited Eastern Kentucky, I didn’t really like the landscape. The mountains just kind of loomed over me and made me feel a little bit closed in. They didn’t feel very welcoming. Plus, from a farmer’s daughter’s point of view, this land just wasn’t very useful. (Where are all the beautiful farm fields?!)
That’s why I surprised myself so much one day well into my CAP service when I was driving past Cumberland Falls and I happened to get a glimpse of the park and I thought: “I love this place.”
Ah, Kentucky. You really had to work hard at it, (we all know that I didn’t particularly want to love you) but you won me over a little bit, and I feel lucky to have been able to explore your hills.
2. The Music
Before I came here, I did occasionally listen to bluegrass. I liked some of it, but I didn’t love it. Then I came here and I was able to see bluegrass music played live by a wide variety of people. And I loved it. And listening to it and seeing the local people play and sing just made me so happy. I think it was because this music is so rooted in tradition for them. It’s part of their history. It’s part of their people. It’s part of their land. And I see and hear that when I see them play it live. It was awesome. And I will definitely miss that. We don’t have that kind of musical tie here in Michigan (at least, not any that I’m aware of…).
There are a couple of bluegrass moments that will stick out in my mind. One of them took place at a fundraiser that the parent council put on for the preschool at our community center. They had some local bluegrass and country singers scheduled to play. Then they had open mic, and one of the ladies that I worked with and some people who I am assuming were from her church came up and played a gospel song. One of the men up there was missing all of his fingers on one hand and only had his thumb to strum the strings with. None of them were beautiful singers. But I loved it. It was pure Appalachia.
1. The People!
I got to meet so many awesome people while I was at CAP. I got to know a lot of people that I would never have been able to get to know very well in any other situation. I liked almost everyone I met who worked at the Christian Appalachian Project. It is just such an amazing organization. It almost felt like a family. (I will even admit to feeling a bit of jealousy when I first found out that they had found a replacement for me. WHAT?! I’m being replaced? I don’t want to hear about this!)
I will also miss seeing the kids that I got to work with in my program. I will miss not getting to know anything about what happens to them in their future. I was walking around my county fair yesterday and there were a couple of times I saw a kid and I thought “Hey, is that…” and then had to tell myself “No, stupid. They’re in Kentucky.” Those kids had a lot of difficult stuff to deal with and I hope and I pray that things will get better for them. But I really don’t know.
People have a lot of stereotypes about Kentucky. When I told people that I was going to come here, I heard a lot of negative things. I heard a lot of hillbilly comments. (I pointed out to my brother on one occasion that the people who live in our town are not exactly that far away from being classified as “hillbillies” and he said “Yes. But these are REAL hillbillies. It’s different.”) There are a lot of “Deliverance” references. I don’t think I heard a single positive stereotype about the Appalachian people.
There are just a lot of negative stereotypes, period. And I’m not going to lie, a lot of them are true. But this area has a lot of deeply rooted problems that negativity and ridicule are not going to help. If you treat a person like they are without value, then they are going to start to believe it. It would be better if we kept in mind that each and every one of us is struggling with our own demons and our own imperfections. We were all created by the same God.
I think that my time in Kentucky has taught me this: Look for God in each and every person you meet. Look at each person for who they are and realize that you might have been in the same shoes as they are had you been born into a different situation. Look for a way that you can give them a helping hand without simply tossing some food on their step or sticking a check in their mail box. Only by doing these things can you really help anyone.
So, thank you, Kentucky. I saw God in you. I don’t know if I did you any good, but I know you certianly did a lot of good for me.