Sometimes, there’s just something about a place that gets under your skin – and not in the itchy, irritating, June chiggers kind of a way. I mean in the, “Oh goodness I’ve gotten a taste and I’m not sure what’s in this water, but I think I’d like another swig!” sort of way. Mississippi is like that – it’s as though those cotton balls are actually coated in small hooks that grip at your clothes and hair, and a drive through a valley of cotton fields leaves us covered in soft white ‘burrs’ that cling to our consciousness and won’t be brushed away.
I went to Mississippi for the first time one year ago, in May of 2014, to participate in a similar project on the Gulf Coast – in Biloxi, MS, and surrounding towns. Maybe it was the presence of the ocean, or the lush greenery that was already in the throes of springtime. It was such a stark comparison to the tiny, barely-budding trees I’d left behind in Michigan. More likely it was the people, who were so willing to welcome us, to accept us as strangers but also as friends, who inspired me. Something about the place – and the welcome that I received there – made a small, Mississippi-shaped impression in my heart, and settled there for the long haul.
But…after spending three amazing summer months working as an intern in Mississippi, it was time to pack up and move on – back to school, ‘up North.’ I was sad to go, and very sad to say goodbye to so many kind and generous colleagues and friends. But time has a way of filling the ever-widening gaps between those memories and the present moment, and now it’s with both a great deal of excitement and a tiny bit of shy hesitation that I think about returning to the area for a short week of activity.
Those whispers of doubt come from the sense of unpaid debts – from a desire to contribute as much as I have received. I have already been offered so much by the communities of Mississippi, there is a part of me that worries that this second, shorter trip to the South will once again leave me to wonder how I might have made the ledgers more equal – what more I could have given in return.