As many of you know, I’m in the last stages of a divorce these days. As a result of that, we’ve had to sell our Wisconsin lake cottage, seen above.
It’s honestly one of the things I grieve most within this process. I’m trying hard not to elevate it above the more meaningful spiritual/emotional losses –like the changing needs of my son, as I prepare to move out of the only home he has associated me with in his nine years of life. But the loss of the cottage is real, and the pain of it deserves to be acknowledged. Emerging church teacher and author Tony Jones wrote about his family cabin at his blog, Theoblogy, this week, which is what sparked my thinking about my own.
Among other gifts, the Saxeville/Wild Rose house was my writing retreat, my proving ground for how to grow a food garden, my trial-and-error canvas for construction or creative projects, and my built-in space for practicing hospitality, by giving other loved ones a place to run away to for a few days.
In seven years, I became closer with my part-time neighbors there (Milwaukeeans originally, around my parents’ age), than I’ve ever been with our immediate full-time neighbors in Evanston and Skokie. Meanwhile, I’ve always lived in the Chicago metro area, and never had access to a “sleepaway camp” or other rural/wilderness experiences as a kid. Same goes for true “city life”, though I’ve made up for that by staying within a mile of Chicago proper since I was 18.
So as an overeducated suburban brat, I’ve wrestled with the spiritual role of “wilderness” in my life for years now. Modern people in the developed world have so few frontiers left to us anymore, and every frontier is an opportunity for self-discovery, testing one’s mettle, and building new communities. The “risk” of discomfort or inconvenience, of getting “back to the land”, has many well-established rewards that come along with it. For example, I made five or six summer canoe trips to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters during my thirties.
I always came home feeling like I had enjoyed meeting the “wild man” Mark that comes out when I’m up there, exposed to the elements, with friends gathered around for mutual support and a small dose of fart jokes. Thus, having to give up the cottage (which is habitable in winter, plumbed, etc. …not a rugged, middle-of-nowhere cabin, I’ll be honest) is like being exiled from some part of myself that I only fully discovered seven years ago.
However, I’m also conscious of the economic –possibly even elitist– realities of it: that my “bi-coastal/urban lake+rural lake” existence (not to mention two houses) was a privilege so few have in the world.
So now comes the _disciplined_ season, of either
- finding that wild place to go to “in my heart” (or perhaps at a local forest preserve for a few hours, or a weekend camping trip);
- pressing friends far afield to practice their hospitality, when I am feeling driven by the Spirit out into the wilderness; and/or
- busting my butt to save a little money and maybe in a few years let God restore my dual citizenship.
Coincidentally, I also recently finished a fine John Irving novel called The Fourth Hand, about wounded men (literally and psychically), and second chances.
It also delves into the role of plainspoken Packer fans (and their ilk… a Brooklyn Italian hairdresser is also prominent) in re-educating an elitist, high-tone Manhattan celebrity, about an authentic life that he never knew could exist for him. Not surprisingly, there’s a lakeside cabin that figures prominently in the book. Also not surprisingly, a good woman is the guide for the man, toward his most hidden and unloved self.
So that’s the journey I’m on, too. Growing up before I grow old, one might say. Not a trip I’m excited about, though. I feel like I lost one of the oars to my rowboat. On the other hand, let’s not forget: I’m a canoe guy. One paddle is enough. Plus I’m not sure if having a woman along for the ride is the best thing for me right about now. Probably she’d be too tempted to climb in the back of my canoe and steer. But I’ll trust God with the itinerary, and to make the necessary introductions if I end up needing some help. Till then, a little self-reliance training is the plan of study for the next few years.
What was that warning Jesus said to Peter? “When you are older, others will take you… and you will be led where you do not wish to go.”
Got that right, Mr. Christ.