Hillary’s car has Wisconsin plates. I point to Hillary. “She is.”
Man: We just had a family reunion on Tuesday with some coming from Wisconsin.
They exchange Wisconsin town information. She’s from here. They’re living there.
He’s now got his head in the window and is chatting away a hundred miles per minute. He’s waiting for his wife and two daughters to meet him at the coffee bar. We are trying to look at him while the wind is blowing heat into the car. He is very sweet with a warm look in his eyes. Wind must not bother native Mississippians…
Man, looking at Lauré and me: Where are you from?
Us: Visiting Mississippi for the very first time. We’re on a humanitarian mission so wherever God puts us. Right now, we’re heading to Florida, then maybe Pennsylvania to work with refugee families.
Man: You’re needed here. We need you here.
He pulls out a couple of business cards. His name is Keith. He’s the Director of Alumni Services at the local university. He tells Hillary, who’ll be graduating soon, to come see him at his office. They have a career center. She had just mentioned to us the night before that she will be looking for work after graduating in December.
Keith looks back to L and me: I’m telling you, you’re needed here. The Sisters need you in Mound Bayou. Go to Mound Bayou. If you come back, the wind will stop.
There’s an Introduction to this story that I haven’t told. We purposely took a detoured route in order to go through Mississippi to see our daughter’s best friend who we’ve adopted in love and spirit.
This whole journey across the US, we have been in wind. Terrible, strong, gusty, relentless wind. It’s been a continuous thread in our daily lives on the road. I think most of my Blogs have had reference to this. And on this particular day, in Cleveland, MS, it’s unbelievably windy as well. Not breezy. This is wind that bends every tree and blows lots of nasty particles into uncovered orifices.
While visiting in the coffee bar, we have just been sharing with Hillary about this ongoing wind we’ve encountered, and how L finds wind unnerving. We’ve also been sharing some of the amazing and serendipitous stories that keep occurring everywhere we go. We had not mentioned any of this to Keith.
So when he says: “If you come back, the wind will stop”, something zaps us between the eyes. We may be thick headed about a lot of things, but not when it comes to zapping from the Universe. Sometimes I look at L just to make sure I’m not the only one dazed.
Keith says his goodbyes, and is insistent that he’ll see us again.
L turns to Hillary: Now you have just witnessed what happens to us all of the time. Out of the blue, someone shows up and we have this experience. People will say, or do, things that are completely connected to where you are at the moment. The Universe has given you a gift. Whether you accept it or not is up to you. Keith could help you find a job when you’re ready. That is your gift, Honey. Our gift by meeting him is for some other purpose.
What is our gift in this encounter? What or where is Mound Bayou? What did he mean by ‘Sisters’? (We were wearing headbands, so we could be looking rather nun-like.)
Not surprisingly, I’m totally ignorant. Spent all of my life in the Western parts of the US gleaning my wisdom from there. I can tell you lots about the California and Oregon Trails, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid escapades, where they filmed the original Love Bug, or where the biggest Grizzly bear in Utah was shot and buried (and that its skull is in the Smithsonian), but nary a fact about Mound Bayou. I do what most of us do in this day and age without the family World Book Encyclopedia at hand… I consult Google on my phone.
Mound Bayou is a town only 9 miles north of the coffee bar. It’s not just any town, but the only one ever founded by and for African Americans. In 1887. Founded by former slaves.
The history is both astounding and heart wrenching. Currently, over 45% of all households live below the poverty level. And it’s struggling with every difficult issue that comes with that.
And the ‘Sisters’ part is the Franciscan Sisters of Charity. They’ve been offering assistance there, providing health care and education. Maybe we could do something useful in Mound Bayou. A seed has been planted.
I won’t be surprised if we find ourselves coming back to Mississippi after all. And maybe, just maybe, the drying unrelenting wind will cease.