Summer Storms, Second Chances, and Sunscreen Every Day
On where we *really* are and why it matters
Earlier this week I was reading from the brand-new book A Curious Faith: The Questions God Asks, We Ask, and We Wish Someone Would Ask Us by Lore Ferguson Wilbert.
I’m not far into the book but I was gripped early by these words, “If we struggle to answer the question of where we are, we will struggle to answer the question of who we are even more.” She meant this in the most literal way, and it’s something I hope to spend my life thinking (and writing) about.
I am a neighbor in the Chamberlain neighborhood of Goshen, Indiana, in the Midwestern region of the United States of America. I live on a block of North 5th Street that was, in near-distant memory, half-filled with crumbling, abandoned homes.
It’s different now. To my knowledge, every home along this stretch holds life in its palms; warm, weary, noisy, messy. Safe, I hope. Right now, as I type from my kitchen table with every window flung open (the humidity finally loosened its grip) I am serenaded by a woman’s voice, plaintive, rhythmic. She’s singing in Spanish and I understand every twentieth word, a morning hash of mixed-meaning.
Now, a man sings, to a disco beat. Listo! Listo! Listoooooo! The guy with the radio is finishing up a job on a house across from ours. (I just glanced out the window and he’s full-on shaking his hips as he cleans up the site.) A breeze filters through the curtains. Cicadas chirp. (He’s whistling now!)
I could list a hundred different reasons why my physical location matters, how it has shaped who I am, who I’m becoming, what I think/feel/believe. The only part that really matters right now is the truth of it all, and the way that truth extends to every one of us. The question is, do we believe it? Have we allowed ourselves the space to be curious about this? Even (especially) when the answers fall into a scruffy little pile of disappointments, wrong-turns, and hope rebuilt?
My kids returned to school a full week ago. “That’s too early!” people say, and they might be right. But around here, there’s talk about summer learning loss, or, “Summer Slide.” Our summer break is shorter, with more small breaks smattering the calendar.
I live directly off of a larger street that connects my city with a much smaller, nearby town. The town is cute. I meet my friend Timi there for coffee a couple of times a year. Sometimes I get a hankering for an Amish-made peanut butter-filled doughnut and drive twenty minutes to buy a box. Zipcodes bear no moral code. There isn’t a dot on any map that isn’t compressed with both goodness and harm. What I’m trying to say is, the town I speak of is not a bad place. I know plenty of good people who live there, by choice or by default. This is a fact. Another fact is that it is one of a few prime targets for “white flight” from our city and our schools.
Does this matter? Why does it matter? For whom does it matter?
Where we are has stories to tell. Our physical place could be our teacher, our friend, our priest, if we’d let it. It could lead us so well, right where we are. But first, we have to look it dead in the eyes. We have to love it enough to be honest about it. We have to decide we will move along and against its tide, depending on the moment.
Sometime in August I usually write an upbeat, funny post about how we spent our summer. Today, I come up mostly empty.
We had a summer. It was good and hot and boring and comforting. Occasionally fun. More often mundane. I spent mornings at The Window working alongside Cal. He lugged #10 cans of veggies around, hauled banana boxes filled with produce, washed dishes, chopped fruit, and once, made Korean beef and rice for 120 people.
I drove Ruby and Silas to a hundred different places, constantly worried that their summer wasn’t what it should be, or could be. We made dinner in the air fryer, ate too many BLTs, and tried to say yes to ice cream as often as possible.
We didn’t really go anywhere, which sent me into a parental panic during the last two weeks of summer break, so I kicked into gear and planned one day-trip to a botanical garden because I’ve apparently lost all perspective on what teenagers enjoy (who can answer this for me?) and one sleepless night in Chicago with all of us crammed in one hotel room, followed by a full day scouring Big City thrift shops and eating whatever we wanted.
For the first summer of my entire life, I wore sunscreen every day, and this was entirely a fluke. (The mid-fancy sunscreen was a gift from a friend and I discovered it somehow magically kept my oily skin shine-free much longer than the humidity – have I mentioned the humidity? – usually allows. So, basically, I wore it purely for secondary vanity reasons.)
I invented a new kind of French pedicure, where you paint your toes white just after Memorial Day, and then you just keep trimming them as the months move by.
There were evenings the skies stormed furiously, and we were glad for the chance to feel cozy in July. There were evenings we stormed furiously, and we were glad for second chances.
Slam in the middle of it all, the Roe verdict was handed down by SCOTUS. I’m still processing it every single day. (I planned to write about this today, but my brain is still a bit of a swirl. Is this something you’d like to hear more about? Holler!)
Then, last week, one of our best friends from our political days texted Cory and I with the alert that our Congresswoman, Jackie Walorski, had died in a car accident not far from here, along with her District Director and Press Secretary.
A flash of backstory for you: Jackie was elected soon after Cory’s previous boss resigned unexpectedly from the same district, those many years ago. Cory was a successful and sought-after District Director and for a minute, there was talk that he would move into the slot as her DD. That obviously didn’t happen for several reasons, a good (mutual) decision that had a domino effect of Cory taking the job as the chaplain of our county jail.
The deeper story is that those decisions were being made in the newly-emerging shadows of our political ideologies shifting dramatically. It never would have worked.
Life carries us along.
The place where we are, it forms us. This is one of the truest things I know right now, and it’s true for each of us, no matter where we are.
The tragic news about Congresswoman Walorski, her staff, and the occupant of the other vehicle, felt strangely close to home. Our beliefs differ wildly from Jackie’s, and we mourn for those who love her, and for the void she and the others left in this human landscape, where nothing is without consequence.
There is no “but” in community. There is only, ever “and.” This is true. And this is true. Also, this thing over here. Sometimes these things compete and often there is friction. Welcome to being alive. Welcome to connection. Welcome to the circuity of us.
I hope my kitchen table words find you well today, wherever you are. I hope they don’t ring too depressing. (Life is a mixed bag, yes, but I am grateful! I just got my hair highlighted for the first time in a year and I’m happier with a glimmer of blond! I’m about to scoot off to spend three days with a friend I haven’t seen in years! The blackberries, though scant, were as large as walnuts and I just pureed a bowlful to make curd! Ruby turned 16 yesterday! The tomatoes are ripening and the sky is the perfect cornflower blue!)
I also hope you’ll take a minute this weekend to really think about where you are, and excavate just one shred of evidence that it is making you.
So much love until next time,
This + That
:: Cory and I finished watching The Bear and I could not look away. It is SO good, but only if you’re okay with a lot of drama, yelling, and f-words. On the flip-side, there’s a TON of food footage (it takes place in a family restaurant in Chicago) and some real emotional depth.
:: I made these buttermilk fried chicken tenders and they were AMAZING. And easy! (I finished mine off in a 250 degree oven just to make sure they were cooked through.)
:: How to Take a Reading Vacation (who wants to join me?!!!)