I could not have known then that I would miss Louisville as much as I did when I left for the far off land of North Carolina for grad school some nine years ago now. At the time I was filled to the brim with the youthful zeal of getting out and seeing the world. I dreamed of being a missionary in Africa or South America. I dreamed of life in Boston or San Francisco or maybe Seattle. I dreamed of a life entirely different than the one I had lived for my first 23 years within the boundaries of the Bluegrass State. But for now, the foothills of North Carolina were the first opportunity to open up. This would be the first step – then it would be on to the rest of the world.
It’s strange, really, but I don’t think my eyes were opened to see the wonder, the beauty, the strangeness of this place I will forever call home until I moved away. It’s like walking around in New York City. When you’re just walking around on the street, you can only see the block right in front of you – the ten or so office buildings, the handful of restaurants and the tiny trees lining the street corners. It’s hard to see much else. But if you go way up to the top of the Empire State Building, especially at night, you get a bird’s eye view and you start to see how that same block connects to the much larger picture of New York. You see the vast dark space right in the center – Central Park. You see interlocking grid streets and then you see one street breaking pattern, weaving and cutting across all of it – Broadway. And if you look hard, as far as you can downtown, you can make out the ghostly outline of the World Trade Center. Sometimes getting a broader view actually helps you see the smaller things in all their intricate beauty.
When I left I started to grow and you did, too, Louisville. I used to say to people, “It seems like just when I left Louisville, it got about ten times cooler.” I’d like to think I got cooler as well but who knows? When I left, my favorite restaurant in all of Louisville was Qdoba. My beer of choice was Blue Moon or Sam Adams. My whole world was the long stretch of Southern Parkway from the South End to Manual High School and then, eventually, on down Eastern Parkway into the Highlands. I didn’t venture out much to new places, just stuck to the same three or four places my friends like to meet up at. There was no NuLu, no walking bridge, no YUM Center. Forecastle Festival was just a small community concert. UofL was still mostly a commuter school, not the sprawling residential and sports complex that it is today. No one I knew spoke of places like Shelby Park or Butchertown.
Some things have changed and some things have remained the same. My taste in beer has evolved but Qdoba still remains a favorite.
I don’t know what it was that started calling me back to Louisville. Maybe it was all the changes that I saw springing up in the city.
Maybe it was a growing appreciation for the things I had never taken the time to look for and explore in my home state.
Maybe it was that all of my family and closest friends were all finding their way back to Louisville.
Still, of all the things, I think it was most of all a feeling that no place felt quite like home. In North Carolina, I found the quirky ruggedness of the Highlands in places like Asheville and Boone. I found the shine of big city living in Charlotte where I lived for three years. I felt that good ol’ southern charm when I moved to Birmingham, Alabama after that. But nothing ever quite fit me like home. Nothing had that beautiful blend of southern romanticism and northern progressivism mashed together with massive creativity and massive weirdness as Jim James so perfectly put it. Nothing had it all, in just the right amounts, like Louisville.
“Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons,” author Donald Miller once wrote. In 2017, I finally made it back to Louisville, my home, so I can love it again for all new reasons. I’ve seen some of the world – Winston-Salem, New York City, Charlotte, Birmingham. Not near enough that I can say for sure that Louisville is the greatest city in the world but it sure feels that way to me on most days.
What I want to share you in these posts, dear reader, is Louisville through eyes of someone who has left it to come back to love it again for all new reasons. I want to rediscover the city that gave me life, that shaped me, that sent me out and then called me back. Wendell Berry wrote, “No expert knows everything about every place, not even everything about any place.” Even though I’ve lived most of my life here, I don’t know everything there is to know about it. I’d sure like to try. Because of all the places, nothing has ever quite felt like home to me like Louisville.