I’ve lived in Texas for 16 years now. That’s something I never thought would happen. There are things about Texas that I like, but so much of other places that I miss. I have been on the road for a little over week, seeing places I’ve not seen in years. The reality of what I’ve been missing has hit me like a simultaneous bolt of lightening and a gentle breeze; a jolt of reality and a deep breath.
In addition to Texas, I have lived in 7 other states and one territory. Indiana isn’t one of them, but driving into the state late last week and seeing signs pointing toward Indianapolis brought back memories of past travels. From visiting the speedway as a kid to concerts spread around the region, I found a familiarity in the landscape that made it comfortable. But it was the sky that caught my attention. Rows and rows of deep green corn stocks sank beneath tree lines that divided the horizon from the bright blue skies of summer. As I got closer and closer to Bloomington, the sun setting in my review mirror captured my imagination and set the tone for a great few days of connection, recollection, and ever growing self awareness.
The next morning my hosts took me to Bloomington’s weekly farmers market. Bloomington is a college town, but unlike many college towns in the summer, it felt anything but abandoned and sleepy. The stands in the market were full of colorful produce. Standing behind each of the tables where the very souls whose hands had planted and harvested the bounty before them. The connection of soul to sustenance always sparks very real and raw emotions in me. It is something we loose in our modern mass markets of processed foods. I’m not suggesting we need to step backwards in time, but maintaining some connection to the nature of our selves is valuable to me, and I think to all of us. The character of the festive environment was rounded out by a parrot on a bicycle, lively fiddle tunes played from behind an open case that was quickly filling with well earned contributions and a gentlemen on an accordion who seemed content to make his music while soaking in the summer morning’s sun.
What I think I loved most about the market was hearing people connect.
“How’s your mother?”
“Better, thanks for asking!”
“Rains been good on your fields”
“Good for the plants, bad for the soil – how about at your place”
This sense of genuine community gave the whole place a hometown vibe that is not easily captured in larger places. It is born from intentional efforts to care for someone, to look beyond our own skin and into the eyes of our neighbor. These are learned skills that sadly sometimes seem to be fading from our world of privacy fences and digital distance.
We spent the afternoon hiking in a remote city park. The trail sat deep under the forest canopy and was a full ten degrees cooler than it had been in town. The winding path followed a stream as it cascaded from a spring, down a hillside, feeding a wetland that was a full fledged eco-system for countless varieties of life. The space had once been a reservoir; the old dam had been breeched over sixty years ago. The sound of the fresh, cool, tumbling water provided the perfect soundtrack for the gentle breeze coming down the hillside and the through them together, nature seemed to declare its intent for peace and tranquility. It was the perfect back drop for conversations of life: past, present and future.
The deep green hue of the area was due in no small part to the heavy rains that had been visiting the region. In fact, the previous weekend’s Independence Day celebration was postponed due to the weather. After the hike in the trees we gathered more of the family and joined in the stream of cars making their way to open fields surrounding the county fair grounds. There, a dazzling display of sights and sounds was waiting for the sun to slip behind the earth so it could be unleashed on the night sky. So many of the fireworks displays I have been privy to over the course of my life have been choreographed to big band marching tunes and crooning country singers reminding us of the privilege it is to be an American.
But instead of hearing it told, I felt it that night in the impromptu harmonies coming from the young voices surrounding us. I heard it from the parents guiding their kids through the crowds and from the kids watching with awe as the sky lit up around them. I felt it as the concussions of blast upon blast made their waves across the fields and landed in my chest like a heart that was beating from the outside in. The celebration of freedom was not found in the sky as it ignited, but in the hearts of people daring to step from darkness to light; each in their own unique way.
Sunday was filled with worship and lunch and games and dinner. There was a constant buzz of life that filled the house as day gave way to evening. As the sun once again fell low in the sky and cooler air prevailed, we found our way to a walking trial that stretched from one end of town to the other. Taking us past community buildings adorned with murals and wetlands filled with singing bull frogs, the trail was alive with walkers, joggers and bikers. All ages, all walks of life and all economic classes found equal footing on the miles of sidewalk that defined the space. Just feet off to the side was the world an eight point black tail deer called home, though he wandered cautiously toward the gap that connected our two worlds. Just feet above us was the hunting ground of a graceful red hawk, though he would perch on a pole or treetop and scan the trail as only a hawk can. Here on this trail, each of these manifestations of life coexist to some degree or another.
The conversation once again took on a philosophical tone as we opened our hearts and minds, sharing our hurts and hurdles. Though we had only recently become acquainted, there was a comfort in the friendship that was refreshing. It wasn’t threatening or intimidating. There was no pressure to conform or perform. There was freedom in unconditional acceptance. The walking became sitting as the conversation needed more time to unfold. The sunset gave way to a star field as the night set in. Looking past my shoulder in the middle of a sentence, my friend spotted a streak of light passing through the sky. I missed it myself, but what I did see captured my imagination. As exciting as it always is to see a shooting star, just as amazing was the peace and pleasure I recognized in her face as she saw it.
The whole weekend was a pleasant surprise to me. I had come expecting to see and get to know people. Instead I was confronted with the joys of life. In a manner I had not practiced in years of city living, of needless stress and worry, I once again found beauty by engaging with the earth in all its expressions. More than that, I found it in engaging with the people who live openly and boldly, embracing life as it comes to them. The people that work, play, sweat, live and love under those Indiana skies.