Native Land

Rebecca is reading George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda right now: “A human life, I think, should be well-rooted in some spot of native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of earth, for the labours men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge: a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection, and kindly acquaintance with all neighbors, even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and reflection, but as a sure habit of the blood.”

I am far from my native land at the moment. I am in Houston, Texas. I was further still this morning, when I woke up in Orlando, Florida. I spent most of this week in Orlando for a work-related conference (an entire, rapturous post in itself) and in the precious few moments when I wasn’t immersed in health stuffs, I actually spent a fair amount of time thinking about the things contained in the quote above.

I was in Florida to spend time with people from all parts of the world, who, despite our geographical differences, are all members of one kind of community. Our shared native land is healthcare improvement. But that’s not really what I’m thinking about when I consider what Eliot was writing about.

A few things this week made me acutely aware of just how far from my native land I was. The sun I saw when I opened the shades in the morning, the warmth I felt during the few minutes I spent outside, the weather reports I heard on the morning news that warned of the possibility of a “few seconds of sprinkles” in the afternoon all served to remind me that Florida sure ain’t the same as Oregon. Far as I was from home, it surprised me how quickly I acclimated to my environment. Yes, I was one of only three people (the other two were also Pacific Northwesterners) who did not flee the pool when it started raining one afternoon, but I also shivered and exclaimed, “Ooh! It’s COOOLD!” when I stepped outside later into evening air that was at least 55 degrees.

I also did the thing that I do whenever I spend more than two minutes talking to or listening to someone from the South. I spent most of the trip fighting a losing battle against the urge to adopt a southern accent. I hope so very much that anyone who picked up on it then (or picks up on it any of the times in the future when I get “y’all” happy) knows that I can’t help it and mean no offense. I blame genetics. By which I mean I blame my Oklahoma born and raised mother. My mother who had her own accent-related woes as a teenager newly transplanted to Oregon when – to combat the taunts from kids at school – my grandparents hired a dialect coach to work with her. A dialect coach from Boston. Hired to help my mother tone down her southern accent.

But getting back to my Florida trip (now two weeks in the past – man this post is taking for flippin’ ever), it also struck me how disproportionately excited I got any time I encountered someone from Oregon. Waiting with at least a couple thousand other people to enter the ballroom to hear Michael J. Fox’s keynote address (AWESOME), I overheard a woman in front of me say the name of a Portland-based physician. It was thrilling to me to find out that she was from Oregon. In the next instant, that thrill seemed very silly. It also reminded me of a scene from The English Patient.

HANA: There’s a man downstairs. He brought us eggs. He might stay.

THE PATIENT: Why? Can he lay eggs?

HANA: He’s Canadian.

THE PATIENT (bitter): Why are people always so happy when they collide with someone from the same place? What happened in Montreal when you passed a man in the street–did you invite him to live with you?

That happiness at collision with someone who you might share no more in common with than a zip code is strange. It goes hand in hand, I think, with Eliot’s belief in the value of a well-rooted life. I have seen an embarrassingly small portion of the world. It’s something that I want to change so that later, embarrassment doesn’t become regret. My Oregon roots run deep, and I draw a great deal of comfort from them, but it is time to start thinking about the branches.

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One thought on “Native Land

  1. After moving from Oregon to NY I felt the same sense of excitment whenever I saw anything (especially microbrews) or anyone who was from Oregon. In fact for a few months after moving back to Portland, I would still get excited when I saw an Oregon license plate!

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