I grew up in The South, but I have always resisted the generalization that Southerners are friendlier or more hospitable than people in other parts of the country. I tend to resist sweeping generalizations as a general rule (haha), but in the twenty years we lived in Illinois, I also met enough generous, warm, and welcoming people to belie the notion that Northerners are cold. Still, as I think about our icy, snowy drive from Illinois to Oklahoma a few weeks ago, something stands out. I don't know if it would have happened in Illinois, at least not in Chicago. Right before we crossed into Oklahoma, at a travel plaza located where Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas converge, we had to stop for gas. My elderly mother also needed a restroom break, which necessitated her getting out of the car and navigating an icy parking lot with her walker. As I helped her out of the car, a rather big, burly farmer stopped his truck and got out. "Could you use some help?" he asked. I told him I would appreciate it. He got on one side of my mom as I got on the other, and together we walked her all the way into the store. I know if she had slipped he would have not let her hit the ground.
But that's not the end of the story. After we finished our business in the store and came out, a woman who had just pulled up offered the very same assistance. Granted, my 18-year-old and 10-year-old were in the car and could have been drafted to help. But instead in both cases complete strangers stepped in.
It was a remarkable and symbolic welcome to our new state. Even so, the first night we spent in our new house, I didn't sleep much. I sat up and cried and thought about the place we had left and couldn't get the memories to leave me in peace. But with each day that passes, another act of kindness has made me feel more at home here. That incident at the Oklahoma border seems to have been a sign of things to come.
I am reminded of when we moved from Texas to Illinois 20 years ago. That move was filled with uncertainty. I had lived in Texas my entire life and now we were going to Illinois so that my husband could be a full-time church worker. What in the world were we thinking? On the first morning of our drive, as we crossed from Texas into Arkansas, we were greeted by a rainbow. We took it as a sign that God would bless our way forward.
I don't know if these things are indeed signs or if I am seeing in them what I want to see. But I do know that God always blesses His children. So I cling to the sign that I know is true, that of the cross made over me, my husband, and our children in our baptisms. And that is no overgeneralization.