The Midwest and Mortality: Reflections after a Tornado Warning

Continuing my latest string of mildly-morbid posts…

When I lived in Arizona, I was invincible. At least, that’s how I felt. Sure, we had the odd monsoon and dust storm, but these rarely did anything more than shuffle our garbage bins down the street and coat our pool floaties in dirt. With only two seasons (miserably hot and beautifully warm) that look more or less the same, Arizona feels suspended in time. I could live there forever without fearing the elements. Heat, after all, is not a sudden killer like hurricanes or earthquakes. If you drink enough water, you’re more or less alright.

Not so with the Midwest.

When I first moved to Iowa, I was excited about the four seasons. In fact, in Cedar Rapids we supposedly have five seasons, the fifth being either trash or cereal, depending on who you ask. (I live between a large dump known as Mt. Trashmore and a General Mills factory; living here is an odd olfactory experience, to say the least.)

I love the four/five seasons. Visually, they are stunning, and I am glad to use all the sweaters I bought for my previous, ill-fated move to Scotland. However, the seasons have taught me a lot about mortality—about learning to live according to patterns of planting and reaping, investing and resting. Snow days have become a welcome excuse to do nothing, and I realize now why my hometown is so much busier than here: the weather there does not naturally lend itself to rest.

When it is always sunny and temperate, why rest? Why not use the daylight to do more, earn more, build more, spend more, go out more, work out more, and so on? Here, though, the seasons demand a more patient mode of living. Some days it is so bitterly cold and icy that we have to rest, and this is good. Although I felt invincible in Arizona, I feel more in tune with the needs of my body and soul in Iowa.

Today was a poignant reminder of this. This afternoon brought severe thunderstorms and tornados across the state. Although I prefer Arizonan monsoons because of their relative mildness, the storms today reinforced a lesson I have too long resisted. While the seasons have taught me to rest and work with proper balance, the storms remind me that I am not in control. I never have been, and I never will be.

But there is a sense of assurance in Arizona that is absent here. People here know the precious fleetingness of things, and they face this with humble resignation and steady resolve.

I can see why so many people are flocking to Arizona, eager to escape shoveling snow and cowering in basements. But I trust that it is good for my anxious soul to be here. It is good to learn to live with the seasons. It is good to weather storms—and to entrust myself to the One who both sends and calms them.

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