I have not traveled much in my lifetime (or not nearly as much as I’d like). Outside of the U.S., I’ve been to the Dominican Republic, Rome, and London. As far as states go, I’ve been to 18, not counting my home state of Georgia. So I am enthralled by places that are completely different than where I’ve been. Walking the streets of Rome, I was enthralled by the ancient architecture-turning a corner and seeing yet another building that had been there for thousands of years was mind-boggling and infinitely intriguing to me. Then thinking about places I have never been that are even more different than anything or anywhere I have experienced is awe inspiring. That right now, as I am in my safe and familiar corner of suburbia, there is someone in some remote area of the world who has a completely different set of concerns, traditions, and normalcy-that is fascinating to me.
Which is why I enjoyed listening to the latest podcast from the makers of Serial, called S-Town (I highly recommend Season 1 of Serial if you haven’t listened to it yet; I didn’t get past the first couple of episodes of Season 2 before I lost interest). The S in S-Town stands for an expletive that unkindly describes a town in Alabama, where perhaps stereotypes thrive but also where the citizens lives/feelings expand past what most people might expect. It is a way of life that is completely foreign to me and yet it is in a state neighboring mine. People can claim to be accepting of anyone, but perhaps the impoverished and low socio-economic community is the most stereotyped and excluded among us. At least, that is what listening to this podcast, and all the people’s lives it chronicles, made me consider. How do I judge people in rural areas in my homestate, neighboring Southern states, or any state for that matter? What life experiences have they had that shape their worldview? What secret pain are they enduring? What are the things that we have in common that can be clung to when the differences seem overwhelming?
These are the things that this brilliant podcast made me think about. Fear is often about the unknown, or about things that are misunderstood. While I can’t necessarily relate to the lives of the people in S-Town, I certainly understand them more now. And while I hope to travel across the globe and see first hand the different cultures that are out there, learning about one of them while driving in my car is not a bad consolation prize, for now.