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And Yet Here We Are

“I sometimes wonder why I have stayed in Greensboro when I might have moved elsewhere,” Marianne Gingher tells us in the introduction to 27 Views of Greensboro. “I want to better understand its pull on me, its webbing, its spiderland...I want to detangle that webbing just a bit.”

Her words could be mine, but the inverse: I wonder why I have moved to Greensboro when I might have stayed elsewhere. In a sense, it’s a more frightening question. We are granted a certain leeway in wondering why we remain in a place; for a while anyway, the answer can be, “Because I haven’t left yet.” But to move somewhere and not know why? People don’t allow that for very long.

And of course, in literal terms, I know exactly why. I had the great fortune of being accepted into UNC-G’s MFA program, which generously allowed me a year’s deferral to have my son before starting. The city is located an hour’s drive from my childhood home, where my parents still live--vitally helpful to me as a single mom. In the seven months I’ve lived here, I’ve literally found nothing to complain about: not traffic, not weather, not people, not food, not things to do.

But place, for me, has always held a monumental weight. And so despite the lovely ease of my move to Greensboro, the question persists under the surface, a nagging wish to understand: from among the billions of possibilities in our infinite, starry, far-flung world, why did I end up here?

27 Views of Greensboro doesn’t answer this question, but it soothes it. As it turns out, I am not alone in my wondering. At least twenty-seven others have wondered too, and in the collage of their distinct stories and impressions and beliefs, certain persistent threads begin to emerge:

Race. From stories of gentrification and white flight to childhood recollections of the Greensboro sit-ins, race relations stake out a permanent home in the legacy of this city.

Wilderness. We learn quickly that this place is inhabited by nature and invaded perpetually by it. Storms, ice, the splay of trees and vines and plants, the abundance of farm and forest on all sides. I start to wonder who we residents would be, without the constant voice of nature.

And that is the fiercest thread of all: the people who live here. In “Ice,” by Fred Chappell, a host of conversationalists bide their time at the O. Henry Hotel to wait out the winter storm. In “Sayf,” by Diya Abdo, Saudi children skitter in and out of their fathers’ volleyball games while their mothers drink coffee and nurse their babies on the stoop. And Josephus III tells us in vivid color about The Greensboro Grub, in which fifty to sixty people gather once a month to eat, talk, and share art.

By the time I finish the book, I don’t know much more about myself than I ever did. But I’m newly reassured that one day I will. Abdo says of the muezzin’s call to prayer that she left behind in the Middle East, “For months after I settle in Greensboro, I still hear it at the appointed time--the phantom azan calling from the distance.” Of course, I don’t hear this call. But I’m comforted by the idea that many of us hear something--a whisper, an echo, a ghost of why. And yet here we are, together, in the city, in this history, in the wild.

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