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England: Day One

NASHVILLE to LONDON. I’ll start with a confession: I’m an ancestry junkie. Once, at about eleven o’clock at night, Jamie asked if I was coming to bed. I told her I was almost ready, I just had to check a few more things on, and then I was turning in. When I looked up I wondered what that strange light on the horizon might be and I realized it was the sun coming up. I came to bed just as Jamie woke and we both pitied my weakness for treasure hunting. One of my Christmas presents (to myself) this year was one of those DNA tests where you spit in a vial and mail it off to what I presume is a laboratory full of people in white lab coats worn primarily because they deal with peoples’ spit from all over the country. They do some scientific voodoo and email you a few weeks later with a readout that tells you exactly what you’re made of.

My main reason for the $80 splurge was that so many people (including Asians) have asked me if I have Asian ancestry I wanted to know if, indeed, one of my great-grandparents from Sweden had married someone from the Far East. My eyes, I admit, are a bit narrower than those with typical European genes, and it would have been super-cool to find a new reason to stay up till dawn on genealogy websites. The results came in last month and I opened the envelope with a level of excitement that mystifies my brother, who couldn’t care less. It turns out I’m 34% Scandinavian (no surprise there, since my great-grandfather Peterson was a Swedish immigrant, which explains my love for meatballs). I was pleasantly surprised to find that 29% of me is from Great Britain and 19% of me is from Ireland. This explains my love for old books and poetry. It didn’t, however, explain the Asian Question, until I zoomed in on the results and there it was: 1% West Asian! I laughed out loud. But wait—what does West Asia mean, exactly? Answer: the Middle East. I leaned back in my chair and raised my eyebrows. Father Abraham had many sons, indeed. I’d love to know the story, but alas, is silent on the matter.

I bring this up to try and illustrate my state of mind every time I head to Europe. Understand, I love America. I love Tennessee. I love where I live and the colorful history of this place. My two hallowed bookshelves, the ones that flank our fireplace, are divided by region. The British Isles authors, which include Lewis, Tolkien, MacDonald, Chesterton, Heaney, and Hopkins occupy the stately shelf on the left, while the right shelf boasts O’Connor, Merton, Wangerin, L’Engle, Buechner, Rawlings, and Berry—authors from the land of my sojourn. My love for Europe is in no way a disdain for the many delights of this continent. But when I get on a plane for either Sweden or the UK, I feel a delightful flutter in my stomach brought on by the mystique of the Old Country where, according to those in the spit-covered lab coats, my father’s father’s fathers farmed and married and built and battled.

Rock band pose. I’m not angry, just pretending I’m standing at some railroad tracks with a Stratocaster. Eric is mentally gloating over how many awesome books he will discover before I do.

I made my way through security at the Nashville airport and found my old friend Eric Peters waiting at the gate, book in hand. We spent an hour talking about quite a few spiritual struggles before we boarded the plane for London. Seven shows, nine days. One day planned for the Welsh book town of Hay-on-Wye. We both felt a little guilty for leaving our dear wives and children at home in the middle of an ice storm while we were off gallivanting in England—but only a little. Danielle and Jamie are both incredibly supportive, and they knew that seven concerts in a row qualified as legitimate work. And they knew that few material things make Eric and I happier than the discovery of a rare first edition with a tattered dust jacket. Armed with that spousal goodwill, we boarded a massive plane and prepared for jet lag in Albion.

My body slept, but 29% of my DNA strands were squirming like kids in line at Disney World.


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