I checked something off my bucket list yesterday. I have spent the last 23 years of my life in the south, and can honestly say I have a love for its history, good and bad. There is no culture that is proud of everything in its past, and the south is no exception. But there is almost always beauty to be found, if you know where to look.
In Mississippi, that beauty is everywhere. In our landscape, our people, our oldest structures. And yesterday, with the family in tow, I set off to see some of it.
Off of what must be one of the curviest, winding roads in the state, lies a treasure that, up until yesterday, I had only seen in pictures: The Windsor Ruins.
And I have to say, pictures don’t even begin to do them justice.
The columns are all that stand now, the house having burned in 1890. My husband and I have visited many antebellum homes over the years, and we were discussing yesterday how it seemed to be the ones that were unfinished, like Longwood in Natchez, or these lonely columns out in the woods near Port Gibson, that seemed to most spark imagination of what the world of our ancestors was like.
Maybe because they’re unfinished. Maybe because there is no adornment to them: no Old Paris china, no paintings, or, in the case of Windsor, no walls. There is just what is, and what could have been. And it is that feeling, of knowing what is, and what could have been, that sums up what it feels like, for me anyway, being a southerner in a country where a lot of people don’t understand or appreciate my culture.
Our first instinct when something is destroyed is to salvage what we can, and then to move beyond it. We are evolutionary creatures. We seem to feel the need to forget the past and leave it there.
Sometimes we have to. Sometimes what happened was so traumatic or painful that we have to find a way to leave it behind.
But sometimes, sometimes there is beauty there, in the Ruins. Sometimes we can take the winding road back to that place where it looks as though something was forever lost, and find that something remains. Columns, still adorned with detail and magnificence, reach toward the heavens, pointing our gaze higher than the destruction at ground level.
So it is with our lives. Revisiting the Ruins can bring a new perspective, and can even inspire us with their raw, blemished beauty.
There is a verse in Scripture that says God will give treasures found in secret places. Maybe this is what it means. Maybe it’s the secret places of our hearts where only we know the way. Maybe the treasure there is what is, what could have been. Maybe the treasure is what is still possible.
At 34 years old, I am still discovering the hidden treasures of my state, but also my heart, my being. I recently made a decision to stop identifying with the work I have to do to support my family, and identify instead with the work that I do to become who I was meant to be. There have been unfinished places in my life, there have been fires that ravaged my heart, maybe even destroying parts of it for good, but there are treasures there. I am seeing some of them now for the first time, I am not digging through rubble, scavenging for something that isn’t there. I am standing in awe at what wasn’t burned away. I am embracing the beauty of my Ruins and turning my eyes upward.