Every day here in Southwest Pennsylvania presents the same question of how to fill our time effectively, creatively, meaningfully, and as time goes on, I am finding real answers to that question increasingly difficult. In previous blog postings, I have tried to explain what it is about this place that I find so challenging. And then on a playground at Atticus's school, I had a conversation that clarified everything for me.
Three children other than Atticus were running around in that easy ramble of happiness children have that I so covet. The daycare woman, Miss Linda, was in charge of them and we were happy to see her as we like her very much. Miss Linda is one of those magical people with children who blows bubbles a lot and who plays a masterful game of peekaboo.
As she and I pushed Atticus and another child on the swings, Miss Linda commented how pretty Cal U's (California University of Pennsylvania) campus was and I readily agreed as it is really quite something. All the buildings are quite new with red brick, a large sycamore shades the lawn near the center of campus, and there are charming walkways festooned with hanging lamps and greenery all around.
"But why is California so ugly?" I asked her. I've held this question in for the last several months but for some reason, I knew I could ask without fear of offending her. "It's just so ugly. Hardly anyone keeps their house up and everything's so rundown."
Miss Linda smiled. "Haven't you noticed this whole valley is depressed? It's in a serious state of spiritual, emotional, and financial depression and most the people down here don't even know it."
Miss Linda talked about how religion is bubbling up all over the valley, but to her mind, not the real kind, but a false representation of it that keeps people down rather than buoying them. And she talked about the Marcellus Shale and the election and other things as we ran around after Atticus and his little friends.
I told Miss Linda I didn't want to stay here. I didn't want Atticus to grow up in this place
"Well, what will you do if this is where God wants you?" she asked. "What if it's your job to do something about it?"
I hated that question, but it didn't feel totally unfamiliar.
My answer was I would make it work and I will, but I can already feel myself becoming part of the gray around here. I won't give up. I'm looking for color. I'm trying to wear the color and bring the happy, but hot damn, it's hard. Thank God for Atticus who is the opposite of gray. I couldn't manage here in the valley of darkness without him. And there are people like Miss Linda, and there are great neighbors ... they all seem to be holding out. But this week, seriously, it's a struggle to hold out against it.
In response to the question of finding meaning in our day today, I put up our Christmas tree. It is bright and cheerful and happy and it took several hours that might otherwise have been spent sitting in a corner on the floor. Our little Christmas tree is lit up with multi-colored lights and and decorated with bright teal and white ornaments. It looks great. I just think we might need more mega-wattage to shine throughout the whole valley.