The View From Up Here

Flying back home at 40,000’ on a clear night, I could easily see an almost unbroken string of lights from Florida up the Atlantic Coast and from Charlotte to Atlanta. But as I get closer to Mississippi, the lights grow further and further apart until just small towns you’ve never heard of punctuate the dark. I’m over them in seconds, hardly paying them any mind.

And then I spot Laurel, right where I left it. To most, it probably looks no different than Okalona, Defuniak, or Picayune. But I notice details like the Interstate snaking between the Masonite factory and downtown, and the flash of moonlight on Lake Bogue Homa glassy surface. When there’s so few lights, the ones that are there are much easier to notice (same with people), especially compared to a spreading metropolis like New York, Dallas, or Dubai.

On final approach, I can easily see my church, the kids playing on the soccer fields, and that single truck driving down a small lane to check on his cows. All my life, I’ve heard people say of the world’s great cities, “It’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.” For many small towns the opposite is true. “It’s not really a great place to visit, but you would want to live there.” And then there’s Laurel. Turns out it’s a nice place to visit and to live (if you’re into that tiny town, everybody knows you, don’t blink or you’ll miss it vibe). What makes it that way is a small group of people who could go anywhere and do anything but choose to make this home. And Laurel isn’t unique.

People usually equate opportunity with big cities, but all across America, hundreds of little towns have their own charm and value to those who will take a moment to see and savor it. And for those who pour their hearts and stake their futures in a hometown of their own making, there’s warmth in that little spot of light that’s visible from high above.

Col. Craig Ziemba, USAF, ret. 
Craig has served eight combat deployments 
and is a pilot who lives in Laurel.
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