July 30, 2017

Keeping it Real

Blessed Sunday! It is a beautiful cloudy and gray Sunday here in Phoenix. The monsoon brought rain overnight so the air temperature is cooler than normal. It also feels quite sticky, so I can tell the moisture and humidity are still in the air. Nonetheless, it is lovely outside. I cannot say how much I enjoy the change of weather. I absolutely love variable clouds, skies, and temperatures.

I never really knew how much I would miss living in a moderate climate until I moved to Arizona. I came here in 1996 from Northern California, San Jose, to be precise. The weather in San Jose has been described as "ideal" by many because while not a four season climate, it is close to one. The winters are cold and wet (sometimes with mountain snows) and the summers are hot and dry. There is little need for air conditioning, and only the very few days each summer when the temps reach into the mid to upper 90s, do you wish you had some AC unit installed. Mostly, the breeze off the Pacific Ocean cools the inland parts of the valley, and well, the weather is simply gorgeous.

Some Feelings Today

I remember coming to Phoenix in November of 1996 and thinking that it would be similar to California, with cool days and nights. Instead, I arrived fully clothed in jeans and a sweater, only to find the day time high was still in the upper 80s. I soon ditched all my winter clothing for more moderate items, and well, that first winter was the first year I stopped wearing a winter coat.

As the days and months passed by, I also noticed a pattern emerge. The sky was always sunny. I mean, like sunny with no clouds at all. Moreover, I noticed that with the bright sunshine, there was stark contrasts between highs and lows in perception. I mean, the brightness of the sun was like sitting under a lamp all day long. There were no lows, no soft light, no shimmery mornings or evenings. There was plenty of sun, but very little color change.

The brightness of the day started to bother me within a couple weeks of moving here. I had only spent short visits to the Valley of the Sun, and on those visits, the thing I noticed most was the pretty flowers (in March and April). I never had visited during the heat of the summer. Phoenix does have a certain beauty especially around the resorts where profusions of flowers and the deep green of grass exist. But within most communities, there is less grass and more rock. After a time, you come to see that Phoenix truly is a desert place with small pockets of lushness. Mostly there is a lot of dirt, a lot of dirt.

I have lived in the Phoenix area for 21 years, and of this time, I have come to accept the dirt, the rocks, and the bleak and bright sunshine. But, I have not been content in it, not like most people I know who tell me that they love the sun or they adore the heat. I really do not love or adore either. No, I miss the cool temperatures in the fall, and the chilly winter mornings. I miss rain and snow. I miss the green trees, grass, and the lovely variety of colors that are found in more mild and temperate climates. I miss living in a four season climate, even with harsh winters. I know that sounds crazy, but I think about the millions of people who choose every day to remain in the blustery northeast or the hot and humid south. They live in climates that are harsh and difficult, sometimes without choice, but mostly because it is what they know and love. They simply are content to remain where they are and they make no bones about the more unpleasant parts of their climate. For example, I have a friend who lives in the sticky humidity of the South. He doesn’t like it per se, but it is home to him, and he doesn’t want to leave his home. Likewise, I have good friends who live in the upper Midwest and who will tell me that while they don’t like the hard winters, they love their neighbors, their city, and that they are really content in their lifestyle in this cold and harsh place.

As a child, I was raised in the Middle Atlantic region, Maryland to be precise. I lived in Maryland for three years before moving to New York State. I lived in Rochester, New York, for almost two years before moving to Southern California (Bakersfield), where I lived for three years. Then, I lived in the South suburbs of Chicago for almost eight years before finally living in Northern California for 18 years. In all, my childhood to adulthood, I spent 13 years in cold harsh climates and 21 years in moderate to hot climates. As an adult, I came to Phoenix in 1996, and well, it has been 21 years of living in the desert. Now, I am ready for a change. I want to go to the place of my childhood, back to the Midwest where my family is from originally. I have family in Indiana and Ohio and my recent week trip to Indiana confirmed to me that I self-identify as a midwesterner more than any other type of person. I have a midwestern personality, and I am very plain in my outward appearance. I like plain things, simple things, and I tend to have a very practical side to my nature. I guess you could say that I simply am old-fashioned, and that I really just want to go back to a place where I feel most at home.

The funny thing is that when I was in Indiana this past summer, I felt so comfortable there. I simply felt like I fit, for the first time in a long time, I felt like I fit. I had conversations with people on the street, with people in restaurants, and with clerks in the hotel. I am not extroverted, so to start up a friendly chat with a stranger isn’t something I would normally do. But, it naturally happens in the Midwest. You just chat with people. I know that other areas of the country are similar, but there is something about being from the Midwest that makes it okay to be yourself. Other areas of the country can be specific. Like when my brother tried to relocate to North Carolina and found that he was routinely called a “Yankee” despite the fact that he was born in Georgia. The cultural vein ran strong in that place and no matter how hard he tried to “fit in” he was considered an outsider. The same can be said of folks who live in New Jersey or New York. I have friends from both places and you either are from these cities or you aren’t. Perhaps I am generalizing or I am feeling wishful, I don’t know. But it just seemed like a good fit for me when I was back home in Indiana, and I really enjoyed my visit — so much so — that I am seriously considering moving there when the time comes to move. Well, to the upper midwestern area, I mean.

This morning as I blog and I look out my window, I see the cloudy skies. I hear the cicada’s buzz, and I think that this place, Phoenix, has been good to me. I don’t hate it here by a long shot, but I really do not want to spend the rest of my life here. I don’t want to retire to this place because this place is not the place of my choosing. It is a temporary (albeit long) stop over for me, that is all. I want to go live in another place before I die, and I want to enjoy the blessing of a variable climate.

It is interesting how I know several people who have recently moved in their mid-to-late 50s. One couple I know lived here in Phoenix for a long while. In fact, the gal is a native (hard to find those), but she loves the beaches of Southern California, and after much soul searching, she and her husband made the decision to move to San Diego. Rather than talk about it, they made a plan and moved. She said on Facebook recently that she is happier now than ever simply because she is living in a place she adores. Another friend recently moved to Colorado. She needed a break after a messy divorce so she moved to get a fresh perspective. One of my second cousins recently left Phoenix to move to Florida. She relocated near the beach as well and has found a good place for her remaining years. My other cousin recently left Georgia to move back to Maryland. Her children are in Maryland, and despite the cold winters, she chose to live closer to family.

I guess what I am saying is that some of what I am feeling is a desire to be connected to family and to community. I have been a traveler for a long time, thanks to my Dad’s work that took us to different parts of the country. Now, though, I have a choice in the matter. I don’t have to stay here in Phoenix if I don’t want to stay. I am not tied to this place. I am not glued down. I need work, and I need a way to move, but really work can be had in most places. The willingness to go is what is key. As I contemplate moving, I also understand that I am not 100% free to go where I please as the Lord does have a say in the matter. He is the One who has a job, as in ministry, for me to do, and that job is tied to a place of His choosing. Still, I am able to think and to dream about moving almost anywhere in the world — as the Lord leads, guides and provides for me.
In Conclusion

Thus, on this blessed Sunday, this last Sunday of the month of July, I wonder where I will be next July. Will I be here in Phoenix or will I be sitting in my home office in some distant city? My prayer is that wherever the Lord leads me, I will find a home there. I will make friends and I will surround myself with community (the church). I will find a home and a place where I will feel like I finally fit. The people will accept me. I won’t be an outsider. I will be home, finally home, and I will be able to rest my weary head and my tired feet. It will be good, I know it. I am not saying perfect because there is no perfect place, but I believe it will be good. It will be good because the Lord will have made a way for me, He will have blessed my going, and He will have established me firmly. He will make a way for me to go, and I know that once I get there, I will be at peace in the way, at peace in the establishment, and at peace and at rest in all the desire that has been pulling me homeward. He is good to me, so very good to me.

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