Having lived in Nashville for a year and a half, I finally understand the adjoining freeway system, I know Fido cafe (where Taylor Swift coffees) and which Starbucks Nicole Kidman frequents. I love the Batman building and can explain the local tradition of hot chicken. I have an app on my phone that tells me about the two-dozen or so concerts every weekend, and indie musicians attend my church.
When you live in a tourist site where the Grammy nominations affect your normal commute and billboards advertise a show about your city, the strangeness of living away from home is exaggerated. With my California license plate, I’m the out-of-town driver; yet I know which lane I need to make it onto that hidden one-way street. A mix between a local and a tourist, I get groceries here, I get lost here, I get confused by the difference between “y’all” and “all y’all.” I get the stranger experience and the local experience – being in Nashville, but not of Nashville, to paraphrase.
You probably see where I’m going with this. All of life is a metaphor for something heavenly, after all, and a couple years as a half-local has given me a new perspective on verses urging Christians to behave “as aliens and strangers in the world.” I’m a Californian, and I don’t drive like a Tennessean, eat like a Tennessean, or breathe like a Tennessean (Nashville is Allergy Capital, USA). I dislike how comfortable Tennessee men feel touching my arms or back or calling me pet names. I forget that “How are you?” literally just means “Hi,” here, and no response is given or expected. I’m out of place, but quite happy not to conform whole-heartedly to the patterns and ways of Nashville.
Still, I enjoy the vivid autumn leaves. I love the crumbling brick and the friendliness and warmth of strangers. I appreciate going to a coffee shop and hearing musicians “test out this new song” on us. One thing about being an alien or stranger, in the world or in a city, is that you’re there for a reason. That means that, despite the fact that it isn’t home, it is a good place to be for the time you’re there.
Wayfaring also creates that lovely moment when you overhear someone explaining, “I’ve always thought of rain as cold, not warm. It’s so strange here!” Ah – a West Coaster! It’s like the song of your homeland. Away from home, your ears get attuned to picking out those phrases you’ve thought to yourself. A microcosm of an unparalleled phenomenon is that instant joy of greeting someone with, “Where are you from?” and getting to follow with “Me, too!” That human fragment of living, breathing, undiscovered Home echoes your thoughts and discomforts and revelations in soothing rhythm. That joy and excitement just comes up to the heels of that giant peace of drawing open polished wooden doors and slipping into a pew beside another eternal citizen of the place you call Home not by birth, but by loving choice.