Upon reading the title, any resident of Green Street may be alarmed at discovering that her hometown is under attack. Yet the attack is not physical, but verbal, like all the best attacks are; a violence that is not actually violent, a sword of the tongue that cannot harm a hair on one’s skin, but can easily get under one’s skin. And some unfortunate laceration, taken some time ago, was the cruel but unclever epithet to describe a citizen or denizen of Lewisburg: “Loserburg.” The whole point of this is not to say that Lewisburg has everything to do with success, otherwise; I intend to divulge our secret, which is twofold: to embrace its failure when we compare it to an ideal town or city, and to succeed on entirely different, but more important, terms, which is the secret of every town worth living in.

Before I really begin, I must make a retraction, for we of Lewisburg have no denizens, at least none from outside our ranks. We are a city on a hill, or rather, a city at the bottom of a hill, a city of a myriad hills and forests that no one even bothers to pass through or around, perhaps due to our proximity to Dunmor and the formidable journey it takes to get there and beyond. For there is nothing hollow about Hollow Bill, but hallowed; one feels that one is twirling and rolling through one world to another, like just before one looks all the fairies hide behind flies and flowers, but such places are indeed swarming with something. And when we get there, we find that we are in Dunmor, a place much like Lewisburg, and recognized by Muhlenbergians as being to its south what Lewisburg is to Logan’s north. But as irrefutable support for my assertion, I mention the grandeur of Lake Malone, the bygone era of Dogwood Lake, and the best secret of a great golf links this world has ever known, which was unfortunately a secret that was kept all too well. Perhaps the hatred of Dunmor is really a jealousy.

For some reason, this is frowned upon: to be a place without tourists. Instead, it is to live in the secret setting that no one knows, or rather that no one really sees when they look at it. Let Bowling Green clamor for attention and the crumbs of a few more citizens, flailing its arms for notice, respectability, and accolades; let Auburn be eternally prophesied as a future shining suburb of a future great city. We of Lewisburg are the unacknowledged, the Winterfell of the north to keep those pesky Muhlenbergians at bay.

But we are in good company, we Lewisburgians. Nazareth, too, was labelled a hick town out of which nothing good came. It, too, was the northern town of a small region, relatively unpopulated, an hour or two away from all the bustle and hype, its humble sea relative to our humble Spa or mesmerizing Malone. And although we of Lewisburg no longer have a town square to defunct or deconstruct or sack like some ancient or touristy city (or, more accurately, like the town square of Russellville), this is because we realized that the town square was not the center of our town; the representative terrain of our town is not within the city limits, outside of it, along its outskirts.

Lewisburg understands this old secret: the home is not as important as what surrounds it. A mansion in the slums is still in the slums, but a trailer in a golden country is surrounded by gold, something beautiful everlastingly at his fingertips and in his grasp. The best part about joy is that it is always looking outside, not inside. We are meant to gaze through glass, like a window, and not gaze into it, like a mirror. It is the same secret that we share with vegetation. A physician cannot heal himself of a major wound any better than a flower can grow itself; but help comes from outside, like the sun, like rain, like soil, like the beloved voice of Mr. Birdwhistell or Mr. Hildebrand calling my father when he was sick, at which times, and during such laughter, he did not seem sick at all. Through the window we see wonders, and if we roll down the windows we can smell something wonderful or banter with an old friend (or in the case of a cow pasture, perhaps smell something less than wonderful). In the mirror we only see someone tired and tired of looking at himself, because he has forgotten the Secret of the Vegetable. Really, it is the Secret of Lewisburg, and if Lewisburg were a person, it would stumble out the door with its equivalent of disheveled hair and mismatched clothing, going out into the world looking like it has never gone out of its house before. Its shoes are on the wrong feet, its umbrella inside out, having forgotten to wear one sock, never having shaved. It does not care about how itself is seen because its eyes stare at the hills, from which its help cometh, because, with a smiling humility, we know that we are so absent-mindedly lost that we could do with some help.

Let us not be forgetful, because we should remember that the center of town is nice, for it contains everything a town should: a school and a firehouse and a funeral home (and now, thankfully, a market with mouth-watering meats waiting our purchase). A school is where we go to learn something; a firehouse is where people come from to protect our homes and those within them; and a funeral home is where we go when there is nothing more to be learned from the life we have been given; or better yet, where we go once our fires have been metaphorically put out, once the eternal summer break has at long last begun. There is no other place in this world that has Bryson and Susan Price in the center of its town, and for that I have gratefully boasted since I was a little boy; not only because they have no identical twins who stole their identities, but because there is no one identical to them. Like any healthy heart, we put our very best in the middle, and then the rest of us is mostly healthy (except those sick cells that sever themselves from those around them, which means severing themselves from those who need them). There is nowhere Mr. Boggess or Mr. Birdwhistell could live except in the middle of town, because they have long been the life of Lewisburg; Ralph Cropper is brave not only because a Braves fan, and because he long ago had the nerve to live next to Mr. Birdwhistell, but because men like him hold us up on his shoulders, quietly living the life of a good man wherever he is needed. Ed and Susan Gower were in the middle of town, and where was the highlight of every Halloween? The same man responsible for prescribing our health prescribed our fun every 31st of October: Ed Gower. While we have no square (at least, not anymore), we shoot fireworks that are seen from the middle of town where the square once was. But where do they come from? In a park just outside town, surrounded by the countryside, because the country is the heart of town, though not its middle.

Since a child, I heard outsiders deem Lewisburg “Loserburg.” Even our own despairing misanthropes reveled in the insult, like they were somehow above Lewisburg, trapped in its dungeon, and like Rosencranz and Gildenstern, I respond, “Then is the world a dungeon.” Times out of mind its children professed no greater desire than to get out, and while some of them had undeniably good reason for doing so, others made such declarations under the assumption that they would be better if they were somewhere else. For one, Lewisburg is probably better if they are somewhere else. But more than that, any tree that is transplanted before it develops strong roots will not survive, or at least will be too weak to bear any fruit. If such a child never trained herself to imbibe the best of Lewisburg, she will not know how to drink deep what any other place has to offer. She will remain thirsty for the rest of her life, believing that the grass is always greener on every other side. That must be because she never looked out the window to see how green the Lewisburg grass is. She must have never taken an adventure down Edwards Road. She mocks the mascot of a raccoon, while forgetting that the rugged scrapper would and could devour our state bird with ease, and no matter its inferior size, would pluck out the eyes of any tiger, bear, ram, or panther.

Anyone who utters the word “Loserburg” does not understand how full of life the town is. Stop laughing, dear reader. “Loserburg” is always said with the same dumb smile, immediately followed by the same dumb laugh, as though having uttered the same dumb thing that nearly everyone has said for decades, in the same way that everyone has said it, somehow brings something new to the table. It is the same tired trope of uttering the name of a ridiculed president, and everyone derisively laughing as though something witty had been said. It is not funny, if only because it requires no thought. “Loserburg” is a local meme, and like most memes and visitors to Lewisburg from out of town, it has overstayed its welcome. It is the same thing that happens when people mock Indiana for being Indiana. Let us not kick a man or a state while he is down. It is not worth mentioning, because it is an axiom, like “the sun rises every morning” to say that “Indiana is the worst.” Let the stronger Kentuckian brother not despise his weaker Hoosier brother, as the Scriptures suggest. Henceforth, it no longer needs to be said. The question is, is Lewisburg the worst, rivaling the entire state of Indiana, or perhaps Owensboro, for the lowest rung on the ladder of lowest places? Is it the factory of Losers, each citizen eternally at a loss by virtue of merely living here?

Nonetheless, one would be remiss if failing to acknowledge an admittedly losing edge to Lewisburg. While things have allegedly changed since then, I was present at school in a span of years where I cannot recall learning much of anything, but I am somewhat certain that this was my own fault. I played basketball where I cannot recall, except for the last season, winning much of anything. I have heard rumors of drugs, resulting in people’s lives amounting to nearly nothing. I have born witness, in a sort of amazed despair, a little league where coaches run like demoniacs toward a foul ball and kick it fair as though no one were watching, or render himself a Baseball Bolshevik and kick a liner to the outfield back into the infield with a sort of Marxist theory of base-hitting to redistribute fairness to the defense (I have seen a Teeballer fail to go down on 10 strikes, because he was allowed 15 before hitting the ball foul, which some depressed and exhausted parent kicked fair in the spirit of a bad magician who no longer cares if anyone saw him place the rabbit in the hat). I have seen proud souls riding with stylish fervor on mowers to the bustling hotspot of the Dollar General, which is the least Lewisburgian place in town because every town has one (however, its workers and customers provide a distinctly Lewisburgian atmosphere amidst the aisles). Monstrous abominations have been spotted at Spa Lake, and they were sitting atop boats, not slithering beneath them, which may require some astute theologian to revisit the meaning of Job’s Leviathan or one of Daniel’s four beasts.

It is not that I weary or fret by being called a loser, but rather I heartily take issue with the negativity associated with losing. As a teacher, I have born witness to several students who have cried because they have failed, as though one is born with omniscience and omnipotence, and somehow at 17 this youth has realized that he has lost some of his edge; these are the same students who, in their extracurricular activities, have only succeeded because they have learned the art of failure. They have been athletes, musicians, artists, machinists, and talents of a hundred kinds, but because a certain number was sloppily written on their lined paper, they came to the irreversible conclusion that they were abject failures. Instead, only comfort with failure can lead to any kind of definable success, like the kind of comfort one has with old friends who still happily tell the same old jokes and welcome new jests just the same. Only when one is lost can he be found, and there is nowhere better to be lost than in the thick of some Lewisburgian forest, or down a winding backroad she has never ventured down, but which always unwittingly loops back to Lewisburg’s limits. “Loserburg” is typically uttered by the kind of people who have never tried to win at anything, which means the kind of people who have never failed because they have never tried, instead living in the fantasy bubble of the kind of person she will be when she “gets out of here.” And we all know what happens to bubbles. Only in the padded realm of media and those who trust it can we find the safety and security of never having lost at anything while reveling in others who have lost any or everything; and this never having lost is the same thing as never having lived. Only there, as the self-righteous devotee at the alter of mass-media, can we stand atop the world and its kingdoms and pronounce judgment on the humans we look down upon like insects, failing to remember that every little house contains a little royal family, that every person is a character in some story, and that the best stories always start in a small town that the protagonist tries to leave, but misses once he does; and instead of condemning people from the clouds as we are whisked away in a Satanic vision of the world writhing in the palm of our hands, we would see them most clearly if we cantered up to their doorway and extended a cold hand and warm smile to our neighbors we seldom try to get to know. Anyone who can look at 800 people and flick them away like a bug on one’s pant leg is not a person who should be listened to, because he has forgotten that he is one of those 800, and if he leaves, he will have always been one of the 800 whether he likes it or not. We should never mock others when they are down (not even Indiana), but we can never mock ourselves enough, especially when we are feeling at our highest and mightiest.

Only the true loser has never tried losing. And trust me, we of Lewisburg have given our all at losing. How many diners have come and gone, for instance? Does anyone remember Real Meals? Every time I walk by that building, a block behind our defunct city hall, I mourn like one would mourn an uncle, and precisely because I remember those delicious and delightful suppers many years ago, sitting around the table with my uncle, watching his overflowing plate help expand his overflowing waistline. He sat beside my father, my grandparents, his wife, all of them now gone, and there in the decrepit and ghostly town square of Lewisburg I mourn them all over again; but even still, there is comfort in mourning, because echoing in my ears is their laughter as I count the losses of Lewisburg (and no laughter as great as that of Ed Gower, no voice as sweet of a sound as that of Gerald Hildebrand). The United Methodist Church, once bustling as much as a Lewisburg church could bustle, now only has about a dozen congregants. However, that is no matter, for I have heard a story about that aforementioned Nazarene doing something phenomenal with the most unsuspecting 12 people once before. And these dozen or so Methodists, many of them otherwise shut-ins, sustain the greatest food bank our little town knows, with people from neighboring counties finding sustenance in the tireless work of our most tired citizens, all of whom bred, born, and raised in Lewisburg. It is only when we know real defeat that we can laugh, not without tears, when we triumph. But Lewisburg may only be Loserburg because it has never noticed its triumphs, like a man who never notices that he always ties his tie the wrong way, but does his work well just the same. Instead, our whole town is staring into the dark heavens, waiting for the fiery spectacle of fireworks. It is a town comfortable with the sad shade of the dark, because like the dawning sun itself, those fireworks come from the East.

The East is where Lewisburg truly is. Only when traveling down Edwards Road and its corollaries, like the little rumbling tributaries that roll around like healthy veins, we see life brimming over as though one has somehow happened to sneak back into Eden. One is never at a loss in those valleys and forests, all painted a thousand colors; one is never at a loss of anything except, that is, for words. I defy anyone to drive down those roads and scoff “Loserburg” from his half-witted mouth, for if he does so while staring out his window, his heart will betray his prejudice, and he may suddenly find that he is gloriously lost; not because he forgot where he was, which is a strong possibility; but because he realizes for the first time that he wants to be found by something he has always sought, but could never find. No one goes down Edwards Road unless he lives there, and in our bustling, busy lives, a pointless trip down Edwards Road is precisely what we need, to blindside the blessings of life because we cannot notice them in our busy-ness. A driver is an even better man if he drives down those narrow roads looking out the window, not only because the narrow road is the one that leads to life, but because if he can stare at the Lewisburg countryside on those roads and not end up driving into the countryside itself, he is not only a good man, but an exceptional driver.

It is not without irony that I am listening to “Concerning a Hobbit,” the “Shire Theme” from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, while I write this. It is not without irony that behind my house is the very archetype of a rolling hill, in which all hills live and move and have their being; like the Shire, in its center is a singular, solid tree that reaches and touches something of Heaven, from where my love of trees comes. I could see myself fashioning out a Hobbit hole from the middle of that hill, but Darrel White would not be terribly pleased if I did, and I would not blame him. Across the road on the other side of the house, every other year, are countless rows of corn. If I would only walk into them, somehow surviving 431 in the process, I would, like in the Field of Dreams, find myself where dreams are not only made, but the place they are made for, the destination of all dreams like the end of the journey that is the beginning of the only journey we have ever wanted to take. Or someone else may walk out of that cornfield—my Dad, Gerald, Ed, my uncle Ben, so many others, and ask, “Is this Heaven?”

“No,” I would smile. “It’s Lewisburg.”

“Coulda sworn this was Heaven.”

So could any of us say of our hometowns, Lewisburg or otherwise, if we had the eyes to look out of the window and learn to be at a loss. Only at such a loss could we possibly gain a sense of home that could prepare us for the only home we were ever meant for, which was also founded by someone from a hick town in the north, from which nothing good ever allegedly came.