A Great Big World: Escaping The Rural Texan Life
There was a whole world out there, and I was only beginning to realize how big it was.
Long story short, I spent about 13 years of my life living in the same rural Texas town, going to the same school with the same class of about 25 kids. I had known at least half of my graduating class since kindergarten. Any community event that included food was either a "potluck" or had something to do with brisket. It seemed like almost everyone owned a truck, everyone owned a gun, everyone liked to hunt and probably owned one of those heavy camouflage jackets. The local radio only played country music. The annual rodeo was a celebrated community get-together. Cowboy hats and boots were everywhere.
Not that there was anything wrong with that culture: it just wasn't for me. But the demographics of my town were heavily monopolized: Republican, white, Christian, straight. Anyone else was kept effectively silent. The people who didn't like rodeos or agriculture or farm animals, who didn't own camouflage or boots and drove a car instead of a truck, were few and far between.
Now, keeping silent really wasn't my style. I didn't like the feeling that I was being stifled, like there was an invisible, soundproof box that I was quietly being pushed into. It didn't matter if I plastered a Bernie Sanders sticker on my van or raised debates about how being gay wasn't a choice or openly questioned Christianity in my youth group. The overwhelming majority continued to ignore me and my claims, staying within their comfort zones and silently pushing me outside of their protected walls.
I suppose that was the hardest thing I had to deal with growing up here - how everyone acted like the world was only 50 miles square, and Brownwood, Texas was the center of civilization. How their way of life was the only right way to live, and everyone else who didn't think the same way had been led astray and the whole world was just going to hell, and Brownwood, Texas was the enlightened moral compass that the rest of the world needed to follow. It was so easy for so many of the people I knew to just ignore the rest of the world, to never question their way of life, to never open their minds to the outside world, and to never leave - Brownwood or their comfort zones.
I wanted to get away so badly.
So when I finally went to college and saw outside the sheltered gates of Brownwood, it was like I had been shipped off to another planet. There were people of color, there were people who weren't Christian, there were people who were openly gay, and there were Bernie Sanders bumper stickers. It wasn't total culture shock - I had made a point to open my mind outside of Brownwood for years - but it was a pleasant surprise that the rest of the world wasn't like Brownwood. I knew that Schreiner University was only a small step upwards, and was probably considered less diverse to the people from...probably everywhere else, but to me it was so much better than what I had been used to my whole life.
At least as far as the people I met there, there didn't seem to be just one culture, one ideology, one way of living that dominated the rest. There were ideas shared, there was a required Global Studies credit, there was an actual diversity forum, travel abroad was not only available but encouraged, and even though it was a Presbyterian school, other religions were acknowledged and even encouraged to share ideas, information, and input.
I probably seemed pretty strange to my friends, looking at all of world with wide eyes, and of course my 13 years of living under a rock probably meant that I ended up being pretty ignorant about most things that the rest of the civilized world had known about and accepted a long time ago.
But I loved it. All of it.
I encourage everyone to look outside of their comfort zone, to constantly expand their world to include more and more cultures and ideas. So many people in Brownwood thought that it was the best place in the world, and they never saw any reason to leave - many had never left at all. But seeing the great big world outside was one of the best things that I'd ever experienced, and every time I go back home for break and see the world I left, I really hope that some of the people I know venture outside the gates and see everything they're missing.