Time is a cold wind blowing through the leaves
Of a tired old tree I sit beneath
Where I think about the world and I don’t know how,
what will happen to us now?
And we come and we go
Like the winter and the spring,
Losing everything just to gain it back again
But oh, how pretty is the middle of June. Oh, how pretty is the middle of June?
Noah Gunderson – “Middle of June“
Things start to move, now that we know the girls will go to school this fall: I’ve taught Alice to count coins and tell time this week. We started to talk about recess, lunch boxes. My final thought before sleep last night was wondering what I’ll do if Violet ends up in a peanut-free classroom. For almost five years, I’ve kept my middle child alive solely on fake bites of spaghetti, crust-less strawberry Pop Tarts, and peanut butter sandwiches. No, Lord: if I must introduce a lunch substitute, tell me later. February doesn’t have room for these details.
February, you beast. Birds banged into our patio door in jousts over suet cake while I sewed squares for a quilt, the hum of the machine gently whirring this roughest month onward in starts and stops. The girls and I filled our lunchtime conversations this week with shared daydreams: rose-breasted grosbeaks and birthday cakes, leaves on trees, swimming. “It’s the longest month of the year,” my neighbor texted. I’ve not seen her in weeks, except when we both pushed our garbage carts down our snowy driveways today and waved, then shut our garage doors behind ourselves.
Oh, how pretty is the middle of June.
And in all this, all these “Be still” moments and the excitement over a delayed start to a new adventure, Dave’s pacing, too. He’s as Pa Ingalls, ever looking west, toward something wilder. He’s one person, but this longing’s an epidemic among our culture. I want to hug him and tell him to be still with me, so I did.
“No, let’s stay here; let’s commit to that one thing,” I said, putting his phone on the counter. “Stop looking out there.”
Out there looks warmer, greener. Instagram feeds show our peers, thirty-something and wild: RVing with their family for a few years, or moving to impossible states (for a Midwesterner) like Utah or Idaho to homestead, grow impossible vegetables, and bathe blonde children with perfect teeth in a clawfoot tub on the porch. (I’m so sure. I’m so sure that really happens, people.)
The problem with the Midwest is that by February, we’ve forgotten the scent of sheets on a clothesline, and all these fringe lifestyle choices tease with a scent of wild-and-free. They tease at an abundance of joy (better hobbies, better views, shorter sleeves) that’s nonsensical to us usually, except when everything’s frozen, from the ground to our motivation. It’s not just nonsensical social media; it’s tangible as peering at cities an hour or ninety minutes away and asking what they’ve got goin’ on. We look there because we expect they hold the promise of — well, whatever it is we’re lacking. Freedom, I guess.
Believing this to be wrong, I have to admit I’m looking at it upside down. See, what if there’s a paradoxical truth here, if we flip over this wild-and-free illusion? What if, when we choose to stay in a place, we find more freedom in relationships with the people we share life with? What if the only thing we’re missing is stability over having both feet in one place, right under our bodies?
I’m starting to believe this, two years into Michigan. Maybe when we smart thirty-somethings chase the illusion of moving, physically moving, we’re really just running from the very thing that could sustain us; maybe we have to lose our freedom to move to gain everything else. If God plants us with people, in families and communities and this big Church body, then whatever draws us away — without a clear call from that same God — from this place we’ve been planted might be distracting at best, corrosive at worst.
For once, my soul says stay. It’s a product of being still, of course. And, of course, every fiber of my body disagrees, from my chapped fingertips to the feet that haven’t hit pavement in too long (why so far north? Why, oh why). See, stay is profound; stay is roots fumbling around in soil to grip onto something. That’s a holy mystery.
“These people are our people now, and this church is our church now. I just can’t start over again. Not now.” I dried dishes next to him. “I’ve planted too much.” I want to see pretty June. And the mystery, too, is that he, on this crazy, cold adventure with me, said OK. Hmm, he said.
OK, he said, with his arms in the dishwater.