Last week, it snowed here at Maplehurst. Even after ten years lived in Chicago, I don’t think I have ever seen so much snow fall all at once. Granted, I left Chicago for Florida the winter before the once-in-a-decade, cars-stranded-on-Lakeshore Drive monster storm.
I remember that winter well. It was my first in Florida. Everyone I knew – neighbors at the bus stop, new friends at church – kept saying the same thing. Aren’t you glad you don’t live there anymore?
Which only made me want to cry. Because, no. The answer was no. I did wish I was there. In the snow. With my friends. In a place that felt like home.
But now I feel at home again, although in a new place, and there is snow, and I am grateful. Crazy-eyed from the pileup of canceled-school days and disruptions to my cherished daily routines, but still grateful.
The evening after our Pennsylvania nor’easter, I looked out the window just after sunset. I saw what looked like a deep and rising sea of snow. I could even point out small windblown waves. As darkness blurred the edges of everything, those waves began to rise and fall. And creep higher. Deeper. Or, they seemed to. I felt the irrational worry that seawater would soon be seeping in around the window frames.
It was strange and startling. It was also beautiful.
Twenty-four hours later, our long driveway had finally been cleared. I walked the length of it, from front porch to mailbox, and decided the scene looked just like a wedding cake. Thick white frosting smoothed to perfection, and a driveway sliced cleanly away.
I tend to see the world in layered images like these. The result of a lifetime of reading, I suppose. The trick, I’m discovering, is holding on to both. Acknowledging the truth of both.
Snow-covered field and rising floodwaters. A freshly-plowed driveway and a slice of wedding cake.
Maplehurst is like this, too. It is an old, gracious, crumbling-a-bit-around-the-edges house. It is the scene of our daily happiness and daily headaches. The place where children laugh, and I yell at them to take their fun outside. Outside! I say. You can scream at your brother all you like just please don’t do it under my feet while I’m cooking dinner!
Yes, I’m afraid you’ll hear exactly that every day at 5 pm.
Maplehurst is also our dream-come-true. In spiritual terms, it is a fountain. A blessing. The one place on earth that, for me, is nearest to the throneroom of God. There is a river and it flows straight through an avenue of old maple trees.
It is both, and I must see both.
The spiritual reality is likely the most important, the most real, but I can’t let it crowd out the rest. If I’m going to write honestly and live honestly, I can’t forget the ground beneath my feet. I can’t forget what 5 pm feels like.
And it isn’t only honesty at stake. It is also love. If I am going to love my neighbor well, I can’t stop seeing the dirtiness of my own patch of dirt. I can’t forget that we are all together in this land of muddy snow and headaches and 5 pm yelling.
5 pm is still quite a few hours away. In the freshness of a quiet morning (the children have finally returned to school, the baby is happy and miraculously occupied with toys too big to be a choking hazard), something new occurs to me. Maybe, the trick is not learning to hold on to two true things. Maybe, there aren’t two realities: one spiritual, the other temporal. Maybe there is only the one. Maybe I must learn to see without splitting everything in two.
Maybe, there is glory in the dirt.
“I am mountain, I am dust
Constellations made of us
There’s glory in the dirt
A universe within the sand
Eternity within a man
We are ocean, we are mist
Brilliant fools who wound and kiss
There’s beauty in the dirt
Wandering in skin and soul
Searching, longing for a home.”
– from “I am Mountain,” by Michael Gungor and Lisa Gungor