For the second time in my life, I moved to a new town.
First was Evanston, Illinois, population 75,570, a bustling suburban community adjacent to a world class city surround by nearly 2,000 other students at Northwestern University ready to have the best four years of our lives.
Second was Plainview, MN. Population 3000. No stop light. 3 gas stations, 4 churches, a liquor store, and some bars.
If you are reading this, you probably know a little about me. I just graduated from Northwestern with a degree in Biology. I grew up in Saint Cloud, MN, a nice community of around 60.000 people, but just country enough where I still enjoy the smell of freshly planted fields. I am engaged to a woman who is beyond my wildest dreams, and thanks be to God, I have had my life paused at the moment.
I just sprinted through four years of college, I quickly ran through four years of high school, dashed through two years of junior high, scurried through 6 years of elementary school, and, I am sure, hustled through my child and toddler years. I am very very good at running the race. I know how to do it, and I have become quite adept at moving quickly for the next thing along my path.
I have been in Plainview for almost a week now. Besides the wonderful couple whose basement I live in, I have met exactly zero people. So after doing nothing besides rewatching the first four seasons of Parks and Recreation (and what a beautiful show it is), sleeping, eating, and peeing, I have done absolutely nothing in Plainview.
So 2 days ago, sick of my cave dwelling experience, I burst into the sun, blinked furiously, tied up my shoes and started to run.
I am not much of a runner. I played football, baseball, and I cross country skied in high school. After my knee surgery four years ago, I can’t run for very long without my knees interrupting my pace. If its not my knee, it is my lungs protesting after four years of inconsistent workouts.
But I go. Then I stop. And the process repeats.
But in these runs, I have found quite the little town: A town reminding me of what it means to pause.
I don’t know the name of this field, nor do I know how recently it has been used. Judging by the weeds growing in the dugouts and the pitchers mound, it has been a while. But for me, it is truly frozen time. I can imagine kids running the bases, and their parents taking them to the DQ down the street after their victories. For all I know, this field has been here for 50 years. The ghostly memories swing around me as I jog along the fence.
But I pause.
It’s around this time where I usually make my first stop. My lungs burning slightly, my knee protesting, but most importantly, my head swirling.
See right now, I have 10 applications out to work at the Mayo Clinic, about 35 minutes south of this field. I have 11 medical school applications that are sitting on the desks of admissions committees around the country. I have a pile of things to do to prepare for my upcoming wedding.
These things mesh together into a conglomeration of urgency. Things to do, things to worry about, things that take away this moment of chasing ghosts around the baseball field. To shut up the voices, I run.
I run and run and run.
See this is truly God’s country out here. As much as I loved Chicago and its hustle and bustle, there is something about running through and between cornfields that stretch endlessly towards the horizon. I can hear no cars, no shouts, only the pounding of my own heart.
This place forces me to pause.
There is a graveyard on my run. Plainview has been along for a very long time, yet, even so, seeing that there are some gravestones from the pre-Civil War era is mind boggling to me. This graveyard is truly frozen in time, and with a town this small, I would hazard that a vast majority of the people that have lived in this town are buried in this cemetery. Walking around the yard forces an introspection of what life was each and every moment along the gravestones. Did those who died in the 1850’s know that I would be jogging by nearly 170 years later?
As these thoughts start multiplying in my head, I realize that a cemetery is the ultimate pause button. Nothing in this cemetery continues. It is frozen in each and every moment. Some individuals are added, but the cemetery lives on forever. Nothing will ever change that there are thousands of individuals resting in peace six feet under all the age speckled stones.
I can leave on my run, but the cemetery remains paused.
You know, pausing is really really hard. Pausing forces us to consider that life isn’t moving quite as quickly around us as we would have liked. Living through four years of fast, future orientated individuals at Northwestern makes me realize that I hate pausing. I hate stopping, because it forces me to realize that today, nearly 3 months after graduation, I don’t have a job. I want to continue sprinting along in life with my friends who post pictures on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and keep on running.
But then again, they too will have to pause. No one can run forever.
There isn’t a stop light in Plainville, but there are street signs. Thank goodness, because since I have only been here for a week, I don’t quite know where I am. The street signs are all blue. As strange as it is, I realize that my whole life growing up, I was surrounded by green signs. As strange as I am, simply seeing these signs makes me pang for the comforts of home.
Don’t get me wrong, every person I have passed in Plainview has been the epitome of nice. I had a 10 minute long chat with the town librarian who went out of her way to help me figure out how to use their (very old) scanner. I was stopped by two different employees in the tiny town grocery store who offered to bring me right to the aisle where my items were. Even the kids around town greet me with a smile, even though we will probably remain complete strangers.
In some ways, this town feels like it is paused. It is so hard to see the pain of faces on the street like I could in Chicago. It is never hard to find a friendly face, even though a sea of unfullfillment rages through me as I walk up and down the sidewalks. No matter what I do or think, Plainview continues to exist as the most picturesque small town. It itself embodies Minnesota Nice. It itself pushes the pause button on my life.
Yesterday was the start of fall, and it is very clear to see that the town is putting itself on pause as well. The community pool is closed and padlocked. The kids run into the community school. Dust drifts on the bleachers of the baseball stadium. Construction workers relax in the shade of trees that are very clearly preparing to pause through the winter. Soon, as snow falls, everything will pause.
Everything, except for me.
See that is the hardest thing about pausing for me. No matter how wonderful it is to take a breath of fresh air and let my lungs relax, I know that there is still miles separating me from where I am and I where I need to go.
So it is for life. No matter what, Plainview will only be a temporary stop for me. I will move on, hopefully to medical school, maybe to something I haven’t even dreamed of yet. In the future, I will crave the ability to take runs like I did today, free of time constraints and worries.
I crave the pause when I am not paused.
Today, one gravestone caught my eye. There was no legible engraving whatsoever. Even though I logically knew that there was still a coffin below it, the lack of any identifying material make it mighty difficult to understand why.
And then the realization hit me.
Pauses are so difficult because when we are paused, we are forced to admit to ourselves that we may have misidentified ourselves. No matter what, we are who we are. We can run as fast as we want, impressing as many people as we can as we spring along the path that we think that we should be running on. But that path will end.
Perhaps that path will end as we hit a wall and can continue no further. Perhaps that path will end when we see another path through the trees and decide to run on the other path. Perhaps our path ends when we fall and need to be carried home.
Perhaps, just perhaps, we are on the right path, but needed a pause to remind ourselves of where we are.
I hate pausing. But I have to pause. If I don’t pause, I keep running in circles.
This is where I have run to the last few days. Plainview has a nice little hill on the backside of the cornfields before you enter the cemetery.
There is a bench there.
I have paused there, sat on the bench and smiled.
Sometimes, I have to pause to remember how far I have run already.
Maybe I start running again in a minute. It might be a day, a week, or a month. I know I have farther to run, but for this one glorious moment, I am on top of the world.
And I’m not moving at all.