More Than A Feeling

Well, let’s just say that I’m thankful that The Good Lord let me live long enough to see this. What remains to be seen is if he will deem fit for me to live to see the completion of this. (sorry boys, you know I love you. I couldn't resist)

After the week in Houston, I was on the road again. While my time receiving cancer treatment in Texas was surreal, this past week represented a return to routine. Over the past few weeks I have jumped back in the saddle and returned to work. While most of my life’s work has been in the Scenic City, I have for the last few years made monthly visits to work on projects in Iowa. Last week marked the first visit since my diagnosis.

In the four and a half years of writing in this space I have shied away from detailing the specifics of my professional work (with the notable exception of the Urban Design Challenge). I will not break that policy in this post. I will say, however, that my relationship with this client and community in Iowa means an awful lot to me. I’m a Chattanooga guy, and my professional fortunes have been inextricably linked to this city. Having worked four solid years in another city, however, is a blessing that has given me a chance to develop a rewarding set of professional and personal relationships. My clients- both the staff and board- are very special people with a passion for making their community better and I love them. My visits to see them follow a familiar routine: a flight out on Tuesday, a day and half of magic on site, and a flight home on Thursday. One of the unexpected delights of the monthly routine, however, is the couple-hour drive from DSM through the cornfields of Southeast Iowa.

Flash back to the early 1990’s: I lived in Montgomery and went to school in Albuquerque. The drive from home to school took about twenty-two hours. On the way out, with pockets lined from working during summer or Christmas, I would split the drive into two days and splurge on a Motel 6 stay in Oklahoma City. On the way back, I was always broke (having dropped my coin on beer and other such things) and I would often drive straight home. As a bona fide introvert, the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts, cassette player, and the American landscape was a little bit of heaven. There was a beauty to the physical transition from home to school. The landscape slowly changes from the pine forests of my home state to the hills of the Ozarks, to the expanses of the southern plains, to the dusty nothingness of west Texas (sorry Amarillo), to the magical panoramas of New Mexico. That drive – time, thought, landscape- facilitated a mental transition from “Home Christian” to “Student Christian”. Those were some of the most cherished days of my year.

My monthly drives in Iowa are just as special. The two hours alone in the rental car are a great treat. The journey does not serve the same transitional and processional purpose, but it is in many ways more special. For the last four years (long before the cancer diagnosis) those drives have been trips down memory lane, and an opportunity to reflect, count my blessings and smile. Music is the catalyst. I maintain strong associations between music and people and events at various points in my life. For two hours I flip channels on Sirius XM and let the music remind me of the good times, the bad times, the special moments, the great experiences, and most of all the extraordinary cast of characters that I have been fortunate enough to know. Those trips down memory lane never fail to put me in a great mood or remind me of just how good I’ve had it.

The other fascinating byproduct of the routine has to do with landscape and the cycle of life. When viewed continually from the same place, the change of landscape over time happens so gradually that it mostly escapes notice. Sure, we are aware of what season it is, but because we are constantly immersed in the environment, it can be difficult to recognize the incremental change. Experiencing the landscape briefly on a monthly basis is enough to maintain the connection with the rhythm of the seasons while providing enough of a break to make the incremental changes noticeable. 

This is corn country. Every month I am treated to a different type of beauty, and can identify the small changes. In January and February the rolling hills (no, its not flat) are bare and stark, save for the snow. In March and April anticipation takes physical form with the preparation of the fields. The  pattern and order of the freshly planted fields of May is a harbinger of things to come. In June, the first green shoots are evidence. July and August see the fields take on progressively different shades of green as the stalks grow. By September the full fields take on an otherworldly hue as the stalks and silks blur in the periphery of the car window. Then there is the abruptness of the harvested fields in October- a stark reminder that the corn isn’t a permanent element in the landscape. The detritus in the November fields, and snows of December signal the winter sleep. The cycle of life as seen through a rental car window.

I could close with the obvious comparison between the cycle of the life of the corn fields and that of each of us. But that angle is formulaic and has been beaten to death (pun intended). Instead, I will share a moment from my drive. I’m not a huge classic rock fan, but I appreciate a good tune. While channel surfing, I caught the first few bars of one of the all-time great road trip songs (one notably ripped off by Nirvana)- More Than a Feeling by Boston.  And there I was- driving through the corn fields, the promise of Spring in the air, sun on my face, wind in my rapidly retreating hair, music cranked, surrounded by friends and family, feeling great despite the chemo. It was a magical mixture of mood, music, and environment. In that moment all the cares in the world evaporated and I felt invincible. As cheesy as it sounds, that is More Than A Feeling.

This week’s chemo listen: Or course, the aforementioned Boston song. As long as we’re going back in time, as I was pulling into the parking lot for treatment this rather appropriate little jewel came on. (If you don’t dance, you have no soul)

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