Pilgrimage not just for our tourists

Published 12:04 am Friday, April 4, 2008

Years ago a wonderful friend 60 years my senior, really a counselor, told me when I was 23 years old that the biggest mistake most people make is that they listen to their fears and don’t venture out into the world alone.

There is a meeting they are interested in, but they talk themselves out of going. There is a church service, but they don’t have a companion that day, so they stay home. People tend to create a comfort zone and rationalize when they are calling upon themselves to go out into the world near them and ask themselves to walk into a room where they aren’t sure of their welcome and so they stay away and stay alone. They miss the serendipity, the chance to meet someone who will make their day. And this man told me that people most often cheat themselves out of the true joy of enjoying the community in which they live. They go to the store and they go straight home. They see something in the paper that attracts them, but they discount it. Somehow, they tell themselves it will always be there, so they fail to act.

I moved here a little over two years ago, from a region very different from the Deep South, and one of the things I challenged myself to do was to go and tour the houses during pilgrimage by myself. That first spring I was here, I was afraid of the Southern accents, the strange, overwhelming, almost threatening friendliness of the people here, and I talked myself into staying home. I felt shy and I was afraid that I would be uncomfortable and I wouldn’t think of what to say.

Email newsletter signup

Then came Autumn. I drove the beautiful always surprising sights along the country roads. I toured the streets of Natchez and was taken with the awe and beauty on every block. And I parked at the bluff and marveled at the mighty Mississippi. I remember sitting in front of Bontura and watching clutches of people passing before my car, talking and laughing, as they partook of the tour one beautiful sunny day. I sat for 25 minutes and then drove away. I didn’t have the courage to get out of the car and make the trip. I told myself I wasn’t in the mood. I wasn’t up to making conversation with strangers. But, my heart was heavy. I felt I had let myself down.

The next spring, during pilgrimage, I went to the Natchez Visitors Center and bought a ticket for Hope Farm, Oakland and Montaigne. It was a morning tour and I got there early and parked the car just in front of Hope Farm. I felt so alone. I took in the azaleas. I looked all around and saw how beautiful it was. I gazed at Hope Farm’s front porch and tried to imagine what it might feel like to just be there.

Nobody had approached the house yet and a few cars had driven up the driveway and were being parked. Suddenly, I saw the hostess come out the front door. I saw that she was anxious, and the look on her face told me that she was about to do something that challenged her shyness.

I forgot my own shyness and my fear and I got out of my car thinking that I wanted her to know how grateful I was that she would open her home to me, and to others.

I wanted to greet her warmly and let her know that I was really happy to have her guide me and tell me about her home.

I forgot about myself and focused on her and the wonderful opportunity she created to share Hope Farm and all that inspired her to live there and be willing to go to the trouble of participating in the pilgrimage. And, I had a wonderful time.

The other people, both locals and tourists, who were on the tour when I was there, had interesting things to say and we shared a wonderful time. I was comfortable and happy.

There is something personal and human and touching about touring houses in Natchez during pilgrimage.

No place in the whole world is the same as Natchez at pilgrimage.

I love and appreciate this little city when its magic comes together. It is unique in all the world. It’s right here. And it’s right now.

If you think it’s solely for the tourists, you will miss out. If you live here, and you’ve never taken a house tour, you owe it to yourself to go.

As my mentor told me many years ago, be brave and venture into the world, even if it’s a world you take for granted. Don’t fail to adventure into your backyard. That’s when the unexpected happens.

Constance Holt is a Fayette resident.