And about those sidewalks

In the days before homes and hearth-fires, house crickets were depressed wanderers; aimless. Every other creature on earth seemed well-suited to their homes; why not the cricket? Their grasshopper cousin cajoled them to try out their legs, to no avail. The ape suggested, since they were so unhappy, they just give up. And the mole: the kind mole popped up to the surface to encourage them to just wait. It’s so hard to wait when we have nothing to do! the crickets lamented.

“It is nonsense to talk of nothing to do,” answered the Mole; “every creature has something to do. You, for instance, have always to watch for the sun. You know you like the beams and warmth he sends out better than anything else in the world, so you should get into the way of them as much as you can. And after the sun has set, you must hunt up the snuggest holes you can find, and so make the best of things as they are; and for the rest, you must wait. And waiting answers sometimes as well as working, I can assure you. … Everything fits in at last, my friends! No cravings are given in vain. There is always something in store to account for them, you may be quite sure.”

Margaret Gatty’s “Waiting,” from Parables from Nature

A few years ago, I’d wake up around dawn on an Oshkosh winter, before the kids stirred. I’d puff out dragon plumes as I jogged on sidewalks all over that small Wisconsin city.

From the front porch — where I’d hop over the newspaper I helped put together the day before — until the time I’d let myself back in my house, I’d be steeped in the community in which we lived. I’d swing out a mile and a half from home and watch my reflection slog by in the windows of the building where my church met. My two favorite parks and almost all of my friends’ homes were part of the route. I’d jog past “our” Mexican restaurant and Alice’s school. The sun would rise higher as I zigzagged across the three bridges over the Fox River, zoop-zip-zoop. When I ran by the handsome newspaper building, I’d think about my desk inside; I’d check my pace. I’d sigh.

Today, I sigh, too, sometimes. I sigh because it’s winter: high heating bills and long afternoons have hit this rural rental. No sidewalks lead me from my home; it’s a twenty-minute drive to church. Six of my closest friends live in five different cities here. We stalk no Mexican restaurant. It’s just different.

I finally love it here, but it’s different, and I can’t help but think there’s something to those sidewalks, as there was something to the yellow school bus that drove by and got us prayin’ about putting homeschooling down.

Those sidewalks …

Lansing’s a different character than Oshkosh: I can see why we didn’t jump right in when we moved. Perhaps this rural rental just outside the city’s been like our desert years. We weren’t ready for the promised land, and maybe we still aren’t. Maybe out here we’re learning about manna from heaven, being flexible and obedient, and breathing quiet air. Maybe out here we’re losing the scent of Egypt; we’re learning to recognize the sound of God’s voice, learning the ground rules. Maybe we’re developing a hunger for yogurt and honey. We’re becoming God’s people, with other God people, and we’re learning what it means to travel with these people.

But I wonder sometimes about those Israelite women out there in the desert, especially the moms. Did they ever find themselves packing up those sleeping mats for the seven thousandth time and wondering when they’d just get there already? Had Moses given the pen to the ladies once, would they have been real for a second: “There is just so much sand. So. Much. Sand.” And “I just want to plant something and stay long enough to watch it grow.” Or “These kids are EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME.”

Just me, maybe. Midwestern mom midrash.

But really: so much snow; drafty rentals. KIDS. I crave a place with sidewalks out and sidewalks in; with doors I can caulk better. I want a place.

“You’re nesting,” a friend joked. I am, but wanting to own something in a neighborhood has less to do with painting a bedroom than I’d think. Owning feels different from renting: owning implies stability, and twisty-tentacle-root-digging. It ends my nagging question about “our lease, and then what.” Owning allows us to use our space how we want, not according to our two-adults-and-three-children lease.

The dramatic tension’s in knowing I should feel this way regardless of whether we rent or own; it’s knowing that this’ll be a slow-burning question. Tension’s in the high cost of renting and the costs of owning. It’s in answering where, when, how? It’s saying, in what ways is our geography hampering our community-building, and in what ways are we, ourselves, the problem?

(Peace is in knowing God already knows this stuff.)

In Slow Church, which has been coloring my imagination this last month, the authors frame abundance as the result of a prayerfully practiced, balanced ecology of church, neighborhoods, community, and sustainability. It’s not hippie stuff: it’s older than that: it’s rootedness, it’s church- and relationships-centric. It is a sidewalks question, and like all good questions, I want to answer it, but we’re not sure how — yet.

Part of me wants out of this desert yesterday; the other part knows the yogurt’s sweeter after the long wait. This will likely be a big wait. But if everything fits in at last, as Alice’s first-grade story reminded us this week, then one day, we’ll find ourselves by a hearth, singing like we were made to do it; maybe many years from now.

In the end of that parable, after generations of repeating from father rickets to son crickets that “everything fits in at last”:

“But, truly, though it tarried, the day of deliverance and joy did come! The first fire that ever warmed the hearthstone that flagged the grand old chimney-arch of ancient times, ended for ever the mystery of the House Crickets’ wants and cravings; and when it commonly blazed every winter night in men’s dwellings, all the doubts and woes of Cricket life were over. … And oh, what ecstasy of joy the Crickets felt! How loud they shouted, and how high they sprang! “We knew it would be so! The good old Mole was right!”

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