Illinois Journal–Glimmers in Shadow

written on 6/25/2002

It’s starting to settle in. The dark gnawing sense of being far from home. According to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy� every sentient being, when under stress, emits a tiny subliminal feeling that “communicates an exact and almost pathetic sense of how for that being is from the place of his birth�. Maybe not my birthplace, but I can feel the sense of being very far from home.

I wonder if anyone else can sense it from me.

There is a dark core in me that is bobbing to the surface. Sometimes I suppress it successfully. Other times it threatens to overwhelm me. It surfaced yesterday. Crystal and I were going out to look at a potential dog purchase. Granted, I’m not really happy about getting a dog, but I promised Crystal that we could do so once we have moved. Besides, it could be a comfort to my wife and children. So off we went to look at a dog. I didn’t have the best attitude to start, but soon I found myself turning deeper and deeper within, gnawing and consuming myself. It was like I had an emotional black hole at the center of my soul that was sucking everything in. Or, better, it was like a tight emotional knot that had twisted in the middle of my stomach. It was stuck and it would not let me go.

Tonight Gabrielle and I went down to Wal-Mart…again. In all seriousness, I think that there have been only two days since we moved here that we have not gone to Wal-Mart for something. I’m beginning to grow sick of it. Seriously. Right now, I’m tired, but the thought of going to Wal-Mart again for one more thing pushes me to the edge of tears. But we needed trash cans and fish food and so we went again. And as we went, we talked and we laughed, but there was an edge to the laughter. An edge of fatigue. An edge of desperation. An edge of madness. At least I know that I heard it in mine.

I’m on the edge, and I know it.

Some days are better than others. I do go to work, to a job that I enjoy, to see co-workers whom I genuinely like. I have been blessed to work at a job with other Christians, and I have been overwhelmed to see the love and support that has been shown to me. Today was our first department meeting (all eight of us), and there was a time to talk about what lessons God had been teaching us and a time for prayer.

And so my move came up, and I was able to tell these men how I’ve been feeling. My disorientation. My sense of loneliness. My sense of lostness. And they responded. They lifted me up in prayer and offered various sorts of assistance. One of them even invited us to join his family on an impromptu picnic dinner, which was wonderful.

Yes, some days are better than others, and I know that I’ve been able to avoid the emotions due to “crisis mode�. But now they are beginning to come home to roost, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to bear up beneath them.

I’m looking for “normal�. I’m looking for that sense of familiarity, that secureness that comes from living in your home city. The kind of feeling that lets you feel comfortable driving from one place to another without being afraid that you may get lost. The sense of knowing where you are. The feeling of being connected to family and friends, resting secure in their companionship.

And maybe that’s why I keep looking for a gaming store. It’s beginning to become an obsession. So far the only one that we’ve been able to find is located in someone’s basement, and I keep thinking to myself that a city the size of Peoria ought to have another store *somewhere*. I mean, doesn’t that make sense? I don’t really know what I hope to find there. Maybe I’ll just drive by, secure in the knowledge that a gaming store exists *somewhere*.

Another “Hitchhiker’s Guide� quote comes to mind. “Arthur blinked at him. He wished there was something simple and recognizable he could grasp hold of. He would have felt safe if alongside the Dentrassis’ underwear, the piles of Sqornshellous mattresses and the man from Betelgeuse holding up a small yellow fish and offering to put it in his ear he had been able to see just a small packet of cornflakes. But he couldn’t, and he didn’t feel safe.�

That used to be funny.

Honestly, I keep wondering where *anything* is. For instance, where’s the movie theater? And I don’t mean the cheap seats. Where’s the large metroplex of 17 screens, all of them showing lousy films? I don’t want to see a movie in the near future, but it seems to me that a city the size of Peoria should have one. Have I missed it? Maybe I haven’t driven north far enough. That could be. I seem to recall seeing a movie ad and seeing a theater on Pioneer Parkway, which is at the north end of town. I don’t know.

I really don’t know. Like I said, I don’t want to see a movie. I just want to know that such a thing exists. It would be a piece of “normal�.

And Peoria feels so dirty and ugly. I keep looking for anything beyond low-income housing, cheap-looking plazas, or warehouses. But it’s so hard to come by. We finally found some upper-income houses the other day, and we were shocked and amazed. And happy. We were starting to be afraid that there wasn’t any beauty to be found in Peoria outside of the parks. Just an endless jumble of beat-up stores and aging houses as far as the eye can see.

Yet, there are glimmers. Last Monday, on our way to Wal-Mart, Gabrielle and I stumbled onto a park. I can’t remember if it is called Riverside or Riverfront Park. Anyways, as we attempted to navigate the insanity of Peoria’s streets, we happened upon this park. And it is beautiful. It’s everything that Erie wants to see in Dobbins Landing. There are beautiful lights and shrubs lining a winding pathway that runs beside the river. The park actually passes under one of the four major bridges and wraps around one of the main supports. At night, when the bridge is lit up, it is a beautiful sight to behold. So there we were, looking over the river (and seeing the Wal-Mart where we wanted to go), feeling the gentle breeze and enraptured by the beauty. I took Crystal back down that evening, even though it was late.

And yesterday I was given a special gift. As I said, we were driving to see a dog, and I was struggling with that knot of emotions that I talked about earlier. Crystal knew that I was struggling and she was trying to help me. (God has been gracious in that our emotional crashes have been staggered, so that one of us is mostly together to handle life and assist the other person. I pray that this will continue to be the case.) So, she pointed to the sunset.

Now, despite an argument that I heard in the office today, I do happen to think that Peoria has pretty neat sunsets. They are not usually very spectacular in terms of colors, but I am still thrilled by the sight of a huge orange disk slipping below the horizon. In Erie, you can’t see that unless you are looking across the lake, and still it is a different feeling. And yesterday was better than most. So Crystal pointed to the sunset and said, “You know, God created that sunset for you. He made this moment here for you, because He loves you.� And it’s true, you know. Crystal and I have discussed this many times. If you believe in a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, etc. who sovereignly rules the universe, and if this God is one who absolutely loves you, it seems obvious that God can create a special scene or landscape or plant or moment as a special gift for His children. He’s done it for me before. And that’s what He did last night. I looked at the sunset and saw His gift to me.

And the knot loosened.

But it’s still there.

Pray that I hold on.

God has been faithful in the past, and so I thought that I would include here something I wrote about another hard time in my life. It seemed appropriate, and besides, it has to do with God sending rainbows.
_______________________________
A Long December

A long December and there’s reason to believe/
Maybe this year will be better than the last

I have a personal soundtrack to my life. Well, the parts from college on. It consists primarily of songs that I heard at the time that seemed to fit the tenor of my life. For some reason the song “Nameâ€? by the Goo Goo Dolls is my college experience. Weird Al’s “Callin’ In Sick Todayâ€? for the few months that I worked at Erie County Farms. 😉 U2’s “Stay (Far Away So Close)â€? for my time at Country Fair. (“Green light 7-11/You stop in for a pack of cigarettes/You don’t smoke don’t even want to/Hey now, take your change.â€?)

Hmm. Somehow I doubt that most of you care about those. However, today I happened to pick up my Counting Crows CD. Gabrielle had just returned it and so it was near the top of the stack of CDs. So I popped it into the CD player and skipped to track 13. “Long December�

Smell of hospitals in winter/
And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters/
But no pearls

“Long December� is the song that is the soundtrack for December, 1996. For a long time, I have counted that to be the lowest part of my life. Recent events may displace 12/96, but I’ll need some time and perspective to make that decision. So let me set the stage.

In May of 1996, I return from college, bound and determined to get a job, attain some stability, buy a car, get an apartment, and generally get prepared to be married. I worked the summer at a local law firm (where I am now employed, in fact) and in September managed to be gainfully employed at Elgin Electronics, in part due to the good offices of Ray Dunsworth, who was an engineer at Elgin. It wasn’t my idea of an ideal job. Personally I don’t think that my body was designed to be at work at 7:00. Oh well. At least it was a steady paycheck. Or so I thought. Already the rumblings of financial distress were beginning to shake the company. I heard horror stories about management deciding which parts to accept from our vendors and which to return, because Elgin didn’t have the cash to afford all of them. And so it was that, the weekend before Thanksgiving, along with my bonus turkey, I received my pink slip.

No, that’s not quite accurate. They said that they were going to have to lay me off for a week or so but that they would call me back soon. Silly me. I believed them. Two weeks passed. No phone call. I knew that I needed to get another job. I had a phone bill to pay, car insurance, gas money, and so on. And, more importantly, I wanted to get married.

Have you ever felt alone? Really and truly alone? Like you wanted one person—just ONE person—to reach out, to understand, to embrace you and never ever let go? From the time that I was a sophomore in high school (age 14, for me), I knew that the single life was not for me. I suffered through high school. I suffered through college. The vast emptiness wrapped itself around me and penetrated to the core. My entire plan depended on my being employed. I mean, you can’t get married if you can’t support a family, right? And now my source of employment was gone. The plan was flushed. It all
came home to roost two weeks later, when Elgin still hadn’t called me, and I began to realize that they never would.

And so I began job hunting. Let me be clear. I place job hunting right above having my teeth pulled without a local anesthetic. Barely. Some days, I’d rather yank the teeth myself than go job hunting. I tend to be a fairly honest, straightforward, unsophisticated person. But employers don’t want honest people. They want people who will smile and say exactly the right things and have the right phrasing on their resumes (it’s not “bookkeeping�; it’s “basic accounting�) and bow and scrape and have a good suit. Being desperate just doesn’t count. And have you ever tried job hunting in Erie in December? Don’t even bother. I visited every place I could. I filled out the applications and turned them in. I looked in the paper. I’m fairly sure that my mother probably assisted me by putting her foot to my rear on numerous occasions. I did everything right.

Nothing.

And it’s one more day up in the canyons/
And it’s one more night in Hollywood/
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean…/
I guess I should

It must have been December 13 (a Friday, heh) that I saw the ad. Generation Sales and Service was seeking people for management training, sales, truck drivers, and a couple of other things. Well, I knew that I couldn’t do sales and I didn’t think that I’d be qualified for managment training, but I could drive a truck. Actually, I thought that it sounded like fun. So I called and was told to come in for an interview Saturday morning.

The minute I stepped in the door, it felt wrong. For starters, there were a bunch of people there, all with job applications in hand. But I thought that *I* had an interview here today…. I picked up an application, had a seat, and began to fill it out. Several other people were talking to each other, trying to figure out who exactly was trying to hire them. One person poked around outside and came back inside to report, “It’s Kirby.â€? Immediately half of the people got up and left. A bad sign. It only got worse. A man (who I can only describe in retrospect as shifty) came out of the back of the building and approached another applicant. The applicant was refusing to fill out the application until someone told him who was wanting the information. The man got into an argument with the applicant, who finally got up and left, proclaiming that this was a lousy way to do business. A few other people trickled out of the room with him.

By this point, I was ready to leave. I wanted to go so badly. But I was desperate for a job, and so I stayed.

To make a long story short, it was a Kirby setup. They wanted us to sell vacuum cleaners. Oops, I mean, they were looking for management trainees who, of course, would need to experience every aspect of the business. The shifty man made us all mark management trainee on our application, even though I really wanted to drive a truck. I even marked that as a higher level of preference. Didn’t mean anything. It was a con job, from start to finish. I had wasted an entire morning having my ear bent by a con man.

I left Generation Sales and Service with a darkness on my heart that I cannot describe.

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe/
Maybe this year will be better than the last/
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself/
To hold on to these moments as they pass

I told myself that I needed to keep on the hunt. So I went to the local Quality and asked for an application. Then I began the trudge out to the car. It had been snowing but the day had dawned clear and bright, turning the snow to slush. I wanted to cry. I do not think that I have felt more lost and alone than in that moment. I was homesick for a home that I didn’t know. I was despairing, beaten down, crushed. I wanted to give up.

And at that moment, I looked into the sky. And I saw a rainbow.

When have you ever heard of a rainbow in December? But there is was, shimmering in the sky. And it was like God, in that moment, placed that rainbow in the sky to remind me, remind me that He is faithful to His own. “Remember how I promised to be faithful to Noah?� He said. “Would I be any less faithful to you?� I got into the car and drove home under the rainbow, a rainbow in the December sky.

The smell of hospitals in winter/
And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters/
And no pearls/
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl

I’d be lying if I said that it got easier. It didn’t. I finally landed a job at Country Fair that started in January. The night before my first day (which started at 8:00), I worked a one-night paper route with my mother. The papers didn’t arrive until midnight. For four hours we walked through the Lake View section of Lawrence Park (the nice part, right down by the lake) with the snow and freezing spray blowing off the lake. What a wonderful bonding moment. What a way to start the week. At the moment, I felt miserable. However, something incredible was going to happen that week.

That week I met my wife.

But that is a story all itself.

Now, I’d be lying if I said that it’s been easier since then. In some ways, my life has become complicated in new and impressive ways since meeting Crystal. In fact, when she gave me a book of Japanese poetry this Christmas, she bookmarked one:

I think of the days
Before I met her
When I seemed to have
No troubles at all.

At least she has a sense of humor about it.

But, when the darkness curls around my house or begins to burrow into the depths of my soul, I can remember a glittering rainbow shining in the winter sky, and I can remember that my God gives hope to the hopeless and strength to the weak. And maybe, just maybe, I can go on a bit further than I thought.

And it’s been a long December and there’s reaons to believe/
Maybe this year will be better than the last/
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself/
To hold on to these moments as they pass

______________________________
And now I am very tired, so I am going to bed. I know that I didn’t do justice to my being absolutely enthralled by the river, but right now I just can’t muster the emotion. Perhaps another time.

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One response to “Illinois Journal–Glimmers in Shadow

  • prairie girl

    “In Pennsylvania the land itself is beautiful. The mountains grasp the sky, clad in dark pineforests. The rugged land awes and amazes. But here in Illinois, it is as though the earth has stoodaside to make room for the grandeur of the sky”

    Seth, I remember reading this when you first wrote it and have quoted it several times since then. The Illinois sky is so big and I espeically love it during the summers when the corn and soybeans lie in borad expanses below it. I remember whne we came home from Germany whne our oldest three were all pre-schoolers. I had been gone for nearly 4 years and spent every day lookiing out the window at the Alps. But how I longed for the comfort of the prairie. When we returned home, I thought I had never seen anything more beautiful than those corn fields under that big, blue sky!

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