I live in the Midwest. Now, maybe those of you who do not live in the Midwest have some preconceived notions. Maybe you see walls decorated with framed cross-stitches of some Proverb or a dish that is called a “salad” though it is mainly composed of either mayo or jello. You might think of large flat plains lined in rows of corn or dotted with spotted cows. Either way that may also conjure an image of jeans, flannels and Carhart jackets. All this would completely and utterly true. No one says to themselves (or especially others), “I want to take a trip to the Midwest plains.” No one muses, “I can’t wait to drive through Iowa” or “Nebraska” or “Indiana and Ohio.” Nope. Not sane people at least. If given the option to save hundreds of dollars by driving across the scenic highways of the Midwest or take a plane just to shave off two or three hours, the plane will undoubtedly win. Here’s the thing, though. I learned a long time ago that the Midwest is full of beauty. It’s not because I’ve seen sunsets across a field that seems to go on forever like an ocean of grain. It’s not because there is something so romantic about one lone tree standing on one lone hill among treeless hill-less terrain. It’s something I learned a long time ago about beauty.
It was my freshman year at the prestigious Northern Illinois University which was nestled in between famed cornfields and a track of interstate laid by the great President Eisenhower (pretty much by himself). It laid along the famed route Jack Kerouac drove and had a history that eclipsed a century. For all that, it still was a pretty drab place stuck in a pretty drab area.
One day a few friends and I were walking, exploring trying our best to avoid any responsibility we possibly could. We were flexing our muscles of new found independence. As we explored we were caught at a wonderful cross road, adult privilege mixed with child-like abandonment of fear. So each nook and every cranny were explored with wide-eyed wonder. As we made our way off the main stretch and into a small wooded area, we came upon a small stream. Well, a brook, really, or maybe a creek. The embanks were steep enough to give us pause and cautiously traverse our way down the sides. Once there we followed the stream up until a small tunnel that carried the water underneath the railroad running perpendicularly above.
We sat, content with our find. A small tucked away refuge, away from the college and with enough trees and foliage to make you forget you were in the middle of vast fields. We sat. We talked and philosophized. The light of a soon setting sun filtered in through the trees and we could actually see the separate beams finding their way through the branches, flitting dust caught in its tract.
“It’s beautiful here, like a mirage,” mused Nick.
“I can’t believe we are still in DeKalb,” muttered someone, who’s name has escaped through time.
My friend, Jess, always one to find the right thing to say at the least expected moment chimed in, “I guess if you can’t find beauty where you are, you’ll never find beauty where you go.”
It stuck. I remember writing it down and not wanting to ever forget that.
I’ve traveled many places and I’ve seen many beautiful things. When life seems to heavy or I tire of the routine and banal, I remember her words.
What am I missing? What beauty have I not found? And so, I strike out; re-emboldened to find it. Sometimes it is in a place, other times in the smile of a stranger. But it’s always there. You just need to have the eye to see it.