Out of all the states, Kansas & Nebraska probably have the worst reputations (or at least that’s the sense I got when talking to others about the various states). Everyone in Missouri warned me about Kansas. They talked about how they loved visiting Colorado but the only downside was driving through Kansas. I looked up some stats on Kansas and the topography of the state on average was shown to be flatter than a pancake. I kept thinking about this statistic and picturing a bunch of people measuring a pancake the size of Kansas. Nonetheless, Kansas is pretty flat.
Also, fun fact: Kansas City is actually a city both in Kansas and in Missouri (the bigger area is in fact in Missouri). There is a street the divides part of the city, one side of the street lives in Kansas, the other lives in Missouri. Despite the flatness, I still enjoyed the fields and the views as I drove. That being said, I drove south to north through Kansas rather than east to west, so I think I missed the stretch that might have been most tedious to journey through.
Nebraska is also pretty flat. Lots of fields and you can see the horizon for miles. This brought up this interesting question posed by Kyle (who I visited in Nebraska): if you suddenly woke up from a coma in a hospital room and looked out the window, in that moment, how would you be able to tell if it was a sunset or sunrise- what are the actual differences? After much discussion and “research”, we discovered that there is in fact no discernible difference (except for the direction the sun in headed). We looked at a series of sunrise/sunset photos and voted on whether it was a sunrise or sunset and the fact that we were right only about 50% of the time confirmed this. Anyway, I digress…
On the way to the Dakotas, I drove up the eastern side of Nebraska. I had seen a picture someone posted of a cool looking church, so I decided to try and find it. It is called the Holy Family Shrine and is located in Gretna, Nebraska. After an hour of driving on random dirt roads and around a few detours, I finally found it and it was lovely. This church was on a hill and is made of glass. The architecture of it is pretty amazing and the light inside is phenomenal. There’s a little stream that goes into the church from the outside and the sound of water added to the serenity of the place. After traveling dirt roads and through endless fields, it was a lovely sanctuary where I could stop and rest. It was not something I would have expected to find in Nebraska, but nonetheless, there it was, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.
After visiting the Dakotas (see next post), I drove back south through the western end of Nebraska and visited my friend Kyle and his family. We spent a lovely day at a nearby lake. Ironically, I wasn’t expecting to go to a lake in Nebraska. It’s funny the impressions we have of places and that it often stops us from recognizing all the things that are in a place. Nebraska is much more than fields. We also visited the “igloos” near Sydney. There are 801 of them on 19,700 acres and were used for 25 years through 3 wars for storage for ammunition. They were decommissioned in the 60’s and now people rent them for their personal storage. It’s funny because they are in the middle of nowhere and are a large series of little grassy knolls along the field. Also not something I expected to see in Nebraska.
It would be easy to simply conclude that states like Kansas and Nebraska are merely flat and that’s it. I realize that sometimes I simplify life in this way. I do it with my understanding of God, my perceptions of others and my interpretation of my own experience. Grief is one of these things that is easy to reduce to a simple line, forgetting about all the complexities of it. My understanding of God through grief and through life might also be simplified to a one sentence statement that will later be tested. However, as you continue to journey, you realize there is so much more depth, complexity, and richness to it all. While Kansas and Nebraska may be flat, they also have a lot of interesting history. They have beautiful sunrises and sunsets. They have stunning big blue skies and different clouds. They have various fields. They have a panoply of different personalities in the people that live there. They have random churches in the middle of fields.
Sometimes I make some really strong statements that lead me to places where it is hard to cling to hope and life. I have to continually re-frame and make room for the new things I will discover, for broader perspectives. Life, grief, myself, others, and God are so much more complex than I could have ever imagined. How amazing that we are able to embark on the adventure of discovery and growth as we recognize there is more than we originally thought. Life goes beyond our immediate circumstances. There is more to life than grief, loss and pain, although there are moments when I get stuck there because the pain switches between feeling like a bottomless pit and like suffocating. In these moments I can cling to the hope of more and remind myself that this too shall pass. Thankful for each step in the journey that leads me to new places, discovery and healing.