Ohio is a place I can return to with muted expectation.  I mean that in the best way possible.  It is as it should be, a place of nostalgia and occasional brief presence.  I’ve no need to make grander its story for it is grand enough and there is little I can do in the present to match or diminish Ohio’s past.  My last return was indeed a muted one, not the least of which had to do with the weather, lousy on every day save Easter and my last day there.  It was also muted in that I held Ohio to little expectation.  I did not meander to get there or think much of what I would do once there….I simply went….quickly and with no intention but to enjoy the first week of Easter with familiar faces and places.

As I made my way Easter day from Chicago to Marion, Holy Week was still on my mind.  It ended with its Alleluias and the announcement of victory over death, but I kept returning to the same thought….”what was so good about that Friday?”  That thought always ended with the same answer.  We have never been promised a life without suffering and the victory over death does not negate the grief of this life.  If such a thing sounds despairing, it is not.  Though we do not get to have the fullness of joy that awaits us, we at least have the One who walks with us in those dark moments and just hours after that Friday, the completeness of his victory would be proclaimed with the assurance that he walks with us too in those many moments of light in this world and the next.

In spite of the weather, Ohio did not disappoint.  There was lunch and ice cream at the Dari-ette, hiking among the CVNP bedrock outcroppings, the drive through Amish country, Marion County stars, a visit to the Pleasant windmill, and Brandywine Falls swollen from spring rains.  If I say Ohio’s story can be no grander than it has, it is only because it can be no more that way than it has already proved.

I will offer no account of the specifics here, but I knew when I left Ohio I would be sad and en route back to Chicago I stopped not at the wind turbines of Van Wert, but instead took a few moments to walk the grounds of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey before making my way onto Fort Defiance and the meandering on back roads.

Leaving Mother Mary, the sun was shining, the first time in days though my thoughts were often with the little town of Fairdale Illinois, torn from the map the night before by an F4 twister.  It was the week of Easter, but the world still knew grief just as during the winter it knew more of it for those I knew than it had in years.

We are an Easter people….though Easter is always had in tandem with that Friday.  If death is swallowed up by life than it is on account of death….that His victory and ours really occurred at what would seem to be a moment of crushing defeat.  And if on that Friday, we stood with him then we know he stands with us in all those devastating and loss filled moments that occur as we make our way to our own Easters.  What was so good about that Friday?  The answer is everything for there is no resurrection without the cross and the light that shines on us is the light that flows through pierced hands and feet.

The beauty of our faith is it holds joy and sorrow together and Easter is ever present even on all those other days we do not call Easter.  I realized something a little similar in returning “home.”

I put home in parenthesis because home is where joyous things happen and Ohio is this to me, but it is also where the everyday occurs as well where a person’s presence is expected. That others were present to me in my visit was not from a place of reciprocity as much as from it really being a gift.  This meant I was left accommodating schedules, but to my family and friends who read this, please realize I do know the greater accommodation was yours.  What this really means is though I say Ohio is home, it is really that way in only a certain sense of the word.  Outside of prayers or an occasion to drive back at the hint of emergency, I’m not present to Ohio in the way I am here.  Even with this there is beauty and opportunity and I knew this during my trip.  Were it not for the occasional absence of others, I would not have had the drive through rural Holmes County, a rather humorous story about Swiss immigrants, a stopover at Mt Gilead State Park or the opportunity to scare up frogs next to a small pond (not my intent, but they are a rather skittish creature) and with these things I know the joy that is to be found in the everyday world away from great expectations and always wondrous things. The thought would make my trip to my everyday home better and this was necessary because this time when I left Ohio I did so with sorrow.

Ohio, you gave me more stories….I wish I had the eloquence to write you a book.  And though I said I would refrain from any specifics I would like to mention one.  First I will say though I appreciate the mundane and the obligation of others even if it comes at the expense of the gift of presence, I also appreciate when I’m given a lesson on grace. Especially when it occurs on the first day of summer.

Without going into many details I will tell you I was admonished by a five year old (and none too gently I may ad) who held me to account for my own lack of presence.  Following this exchange of words, I could only assure her I wanted to be with her, her sister and brother, her mom, and her aunt.  In return for my absence on the night before I would take her and her family to a place that knows not obligation, but grace….the place where summer was to begin.

Summer that everlasting season…. its beginning is not confined by a particular date on a calendar, but rather in an often simple moment, such as with the season’s first taste of ice cream, when we realize the coming days will be long and we will be wrapped in the reprieve of others.  If there were historical markers for my life and its moments of grace, there would be one at the intersection of Route 30 and Mill Street to proclaim that on the first week of the 2015th Easter in the 50th year of my life that with the purchase of these cones, winter has known defeat and I’ve come to know my 51st summer.  From that moment I knew when I left Ohio, it would be with a little sadness, but also one with another moment of grace.

Having said goodbye to Ohio, I returned to Chicago with a beautiful sorrow.  I returned too knowing that coming home to Ohio with muted expectations did not mean muted experiences.  As had often been the case, I realized Ohio is always home to me in that going there gives me that courage needed here in my everyday home and that would be enough, but it gives me more granting me the knowledge that wherever I find myself, grace attends me….a lesson well had in the first week of Easter.

Image:  sunrise over rural Hardin County