I think it was in my freshman year at BYU that I fully learned to embrace my Mississippi. It is the state where I was born, and from where half of my DNA existed for generations, and I learned to love it for all of its complexity and contradictions, mostly because I attended a school with students so largely uninformed about the South, and the pinnacle of the South which is Mississippi. I was hyper-defensive and protective of it, and I relished my childhood exploits with family in Mississippi as something that made me different and unique in a sea of BYU freshmen conformity.
When I was choosing law schools, I more than briefly considered returning back to attend Ole Miss on a full-ride scholarship that would have also paid my living expenses, but I didn’t because I wasn’t sure that I wanted to make Mississippi the rest of my life. Sure, I appreciated it, but I wanted big adventures in big cities and to travel the world, and I wasn’t sure Mississippi could offer me that.
In law school, after spending a summer working at Southeast Mississippi Legal Services, I started to wonder if my notions of life had been a mistake and maybe all I really needed was a rolling pasture with a good sunset view, a pack of dogs, and a job that left me feeling like I was actually doing something to help others. Still, I wasn’t ready, and so I looked back to the North for a place to make my post law school career.
Now, unless I can live in London or Cape Town, I truthfully cannot fathom wanting to live in a city again. Every time I go to my parents house in Mississippi, I love the familiar feeling of home, even if it isn’t where I actually grew up. I was born in Mississippi when my dad was attending Mississippi State, and I can’t help but to be swept up in this feeling of Mississippi pride that has come as a result of how well State and Ole Miss are doing in football this year. That’s silly, I know, but it means a lot to see my Dad so happy in following his alma mater.
The first big sporting event I ever went to as a kid was a Mississippi State football game. I was too young to ring any cowbells, but I distinctly remember the field and the way it looked. When I was at BYU, the football team played State. I didn’t watch the game, as I had Utah Symphony tickets instead that evening, but I remember emerging from the symphony, turning the radio to the game coverage and pounding the dashboard very hard when I heard that State was losing. I also remember feeling slightly consoled when Luke Staley broke his leg late in the game. I know that makes me a terrible person, to admit that I achieved some degree of satisfaction seeing a student athlete injured, but Luke Staley represented to me everything wrong with BYU and its football culture at the time, and as I said in an earlier entry, I had a cruel streak at BYU that I adapted based on principles of self-preservation in the face of rejection, and so there it is, I admit it. I was terrible.
Anyway, going back to Mississippi, this essay and accompanying video posted on ESPN today by Wright Thompson completely made me cry today. It just explains so well how it all feels in a way that is more than just about football. It gets at what makes Mississippi its unique and contradictory place – a place I love and sometimes hate all at the same moment. Mississippi would be nothing without its great legacy of writing, a legacy a chump like myself could never live up to, but then again you couldn’t expect to have such great writers from a place less complicated and guilt-ridden than Mississippi.