man returning from trip

After being gone from my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee for nearly thirty years, I’m going home.

My years as a parent to children are done. My descendants (can’t call them kids) are grown and moving on with their lives. As a single dad for nearly ten years, I got to watch both of them grow, develop interests & relationships, and gain understanding of the world around them.  

I poured my heart and soul into this effort of being a father. It touched every other aspect of my life. It gave me the desire to be successful at work so I could provide for them. It affected my love life, because I knew my daughter and son were watching how I treated the lady I dated. I strove to show my two how a man should respect a lady, in conversation and action. It helped guide my choices at church, because I was responsible for their spiritual growth (directly and indirectly). In time, I hoped these lessons and others would resonate with my two, and set many goals for the kind of people they might grow into. They have met so many of those goals and exceeded so many others.

So today, the task of raising children is virtually complete. Now, I have so much free time to indulge in a myriad of activities. I had to ask myself the question: If I could live anywhere, and money wasn’t an active concern, where would I go?

Understand, I am not wealthy by any means. But my years of military service have afforded me some flexibility in where I go. When I thought about it, I remembered, yes, I am a father, but I am also a son. And Memphis is my home.

I've read many of the same websites others read that have shared an easy narrative about the crime, or the polarization between races and cultures in the city. But I see the potential. I see how family ties can knit people together, to aid one another in surviving a society that grows colder with each generation.I learned that  myself, when all my family and friends rallied around me and my daughter and son, year after year.

In Memphis, I see people who’ve endured hard times, and can hold their heads up as they continue towards their individual and collective destinies. Those destinies are intertwined, and Memphians acknowledge it. They respect the past, understand the sacrifices and pain that were necessary to get to this point, and look to how things can be better in the future.

I think of my mother and many others, who were inspired by the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. They nurtured their children, but also went out alongside countless brave men and women who sought equality for all Americans. The lessons those mothers in Memphis taught back then are still powerful and relevant today. The things they witnessed and shared with us can help us navigate these turbulent times.

Walking those streets today, and seeing the hard-earned progress can’t help but inspire any who take the time to consider that part of our nation’s history. That’s a key part of what draws me home – that sense of wide-open possibilities. By no means is Memphis done evolving as a city. I want to be there, be a part of that evolution.

Of course other cities in this nation are going through the same. Some have evolved faster, while others are still working towards their destinies. But, none of those other cities are my home. Memphis is.

As I consider this move, I have a few other things in mind that pull me towards home. One simple thing is, I miss the heat. I miss the comforting moments in the back yard with friends and family at sunset, gathered around the grille, slapping at gnats & mosquitos. I miss it being quiet enough to hear the crickets chirping just after dark, seeing fireflies blink their pinpoint dots of color.

I miss the southern sensibility. I enjoy the laid-back pace, and the idea that people stop to talk. I get a kick out of hearing people ask “how are you today?” and seeing that they are actually waiting for your heartfelt response.

I look forward to seeing my siblings and extended family, and comparing notes on how we made it through the ups and downs of life. I would guess middle-aged folks enjoy that, now that we’ve pretty much survived the rat race of life. Now, with experience and wisdom, we can look back and see the blessings that allowed us to reach these points in our lives.

As I enter the so-called “golden years” of my own life, I don’t have that desire to endure the grind any more. I don’t have that interest to climb a career ladder either. I want to embrace the freedom in retirement, use the freedom to work alongside others who want to make the community a stronger place and help others as I’ve been helped. On some level, middle age may mean the end of some things, but it is of course a chance for new beginnings and new perspectives.

I know I’m not going home to “fix” anybody or “save” the city. I still have too much in my own life that needs pruning or repairing. I readily admit, even as I mean well, I have my issues. I’ve stumbled, misinterpreted situations, needlessly and carelessly hurt people who deserved better. I can’t repair the damage I’ve done. I can, however, apply all those lessons learned as I grow older and pour back into my community what was poured into me.

I’ll always be there for my daughter and son; They are the most important people to me. But in life, sometimes you've got to go back home to become who you were meant to be. I look forward to this new adventure.

Ralph Thompson, Jr. is a retired United States Air Force officer and writer. Follow him on Twitter.