Twelve months, four seasons, fire and ice: I have been living in Omaha, Nebraska for almost exactly one year. I used to marvel in disbelief when I heard older people say things like, “Hasn’t this year just flown by?” Or, “It seems like Christmas was just yesterday!” Are you kidding me? Time doesn’t fly, it creeps, it slogs. When I was in school (for a rough total of twenty-one years), days and weeks and months passed slowly because they were always marked by deadlines. Seminary felt like a lifetime spent in limbo (have you seen Inception yet?), where I managed to grow into an old woman while maintaining my youthful appearance. There was nothing fast about it. But now that school is behind me and I no longer mark time by papers that are due or tests that are taken, I understand what all those people meant when they remarked on the quick passage of years. I really do feel like I just moved here.
This has been a big year for me: spiritually, psychically, emotionally, a lot has happened. Almost all of it has been remarkably positive. I was ordained a priest and celebrated a whole year of “firsts” (first Eucharist, baptism, wedding, funeral, etc.) in one of the healthiest, most vibrant communities of faith imaginable. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better parish with which to begin my ordained ministry. After years of living in a cinder-block cell, I finally had the opportunity to make a home for myself, something I have been fantasizing about and craving for a long time. I even learned how to cook. Of course there were the tough times, too, most notably a winter that tested my emotional resolve with face-smacking temperatures, and an uncomfortable growth spurt incurred by sad events. Like I said, it was a big year.
This year I learned how important place is to me, and after one cycle through the loop of bold Midwestern seasons, Nebraska remains a bit of an enigma. By “Nebraska” I mean the place writ large, not the people (whom I mostly find delightful) or my day-to-day life in Omaha (which is very pleasant), but the identity of this particular stretch of prairie, its location in the makeup of America’s psychic character. What is Nebraska? What does it mean? And why do I care?
I guess I care because I keep ending up here. As a person who believes in a God who calls, I feel strongly compelled to at least seek to understand why I have landed in Nebraska. What does this place have to teach me, I wonder? Why do I keep coming back?
While I sometimes feel at loose ends when it comes to my ability to connect to the ground beneath my feet, I do manage to feel strongly connected to the sky above. I have written a lot about my love of Nebraska weather, or, if not love exactly, appreciation. The weather here resonates with me. The sky feels significant in a very real way. This spring and summer has redeemed a little bit of last winter, mostly because the long stretches of cold and snow forced me to focus on survival rather than catharsis, and thunderstorms and bold sunsets are nothing if not cathartic.
Here’s a little secret about me. It’s not really a secret, just a thing that nobody else knows because nobody else is there to see it. When I am awoken by a thunderstorm at one or two or three o’clock in the morning, I get out of bed, make a cup of tea, open all the blinds in the apartment but leave the lights off, and watch the sky like it’s a blockbuster movie. Sometimes I sit on the back porch where the humidity makes my hands slick and the lightening gives me static goosebumbs. I don’t care that I lose sleep; I don’t care that I feel and look a little crazy. Something in my spirit is closely hewn to all that electricity and pressure and water, and I wouldn’t have known that had I never lived in Nebraska.