Iowa Girl

Iowa is where my childhood memories begin. So even though I wasn’t born in Iowa, the paradox is that I was.

When I was five years old in Iowa, my world was my family and one block around. It was here I found my first best friend, and learned how to be one. I learned that if you’re shy, it’s good to have a friend who is just a little bolder. And maybe you help them be just a little calmer.

Iowa first put music and rhythm in my body. My father used to play his guitar after dinner, while my siblings and I would move and dance around the living room. Soon I became aware of patterns. I noticed the steady beat of those songs was like the steady thump of a basketball in our driveway, or the steady creak of metal chains as our swings went back and forth, back and forth.

Iowa is where I first felt the range of my emotions. I felt compassion when my little sister had her tonsils out. I felt disappointment being chosen last in kindergarten to select a Christmas gift. (Adding salt to the wound, it was a giant pencil … a pencil!) I felt tenderness and affection for our sweet, elderly babysitter. And I felt afraid when my friend’s parents took me for a long drive away from home. I didn’t know why I was separated, and I cried for my mom.

Iowa Backyard
That’s me, second from the right, holding the hand of my fabulously bold friend, Wanda.

But in Iowa, I also learned to take risks and knocks and be resilient. One time I hit the curb too hard, flew over my bicycle handlebars, and crashed into the pavement. Another time I slipped down the basement stairs and broke my collar bone. All the scars I have on my knees, I earned in Iowa.

Iowa also put a gentleness in me. Iowa is where I first felt the warmth of the golden hour, watching summer shadows stretch long on the sidewalk. I learned that backyards full of dandelions turned into fields of wishes. That we should make love, not war. And that there were people walking on the moon, though you couldn’t see them. This is why you must always have dreams, to find just what is possible.

For a long time I forgot about Iowa. But then one day I found a book that spoke to my heart, and it made me realize Iowa was still inside me. Mary Allen in the “Rooms of Heaven” wrote:

…Iowa has a safe, kindly, fresh-scrubbed feeling. The landscape consists of miles and miles of rolling, undulating green, a verdant patchwork of corn and soybeans, the horizon only broken every once in a while by a clump of farm buildings — a large white house, a sagging red barn, a windmill, a silo, a couple of sheds — and sometimes, out in the cornfields, by a pickup truck barreling along a narrow road in the distance, kicking up a cloud of white dust. Often on the horizon the air fades to a pale, hazy, bluish shade of pink, and above it the vault of the mild blue sky curves and rises. The view seems endlessly wide; it makes something expand inside your eyes or your mind.

This is true. This is what Iowa first did for me. It made my life expand.

A Life Well Lived

What does it mean to live a life well lived?

I think about this often (especially as I get older).

I know it essentially includes being open and traveling a spectrum of human experiences. To me, a life well lived is a life of expansion.

This morning, I came across a lovely 4-minute video featuring Jim Whittaker, first American to scale Mount Everest. He shared some of his philosophy on risk-taking, and getting outside to learn about yourself:

“Nature is the best teacher in the world …. it is in the wild places, in the damp clean air of an ancient forest, on a heaving ocean in unpredictable wind, on a snowy summit at the top of the world, that I enter my own personal cathedral and know where I fit in the vastness of creation.”

I understand when he says it is “an unconscious spiritual journey to be in the natural world.” I have only ever felt a sense of awe and wonder while outside in nature’s cathedral.

Moon June
I remember the first time I saw the northern lights dancing in ribbons across a dark winter sky … the first time I saw a shooting star, or watched the luminous orange globe of the full moon, rising slowly over the sea … or felt the vastness of the universe while standing under a million bright and brilliant stars.

My own personal cathedral is the night sky. And in this place, witnessing something special, I have felt very small but also connected to something much larger than myself. I have been overjoyed, stilled, filled with gratitude, and somehow reassured of my place in this world. These experiences have been profoundly expansive.

I will continue to think about this, and build my own definition for a life well lived. In the meantime, if you would like a few moments of thoughtful inspiration, here is Jim Whittaker’s perspective.