A search for emotional peace will likely succeed much faster if I start looking somewhere in the vicinity of contentment. Scriptures hint at contentment as the secret of peace. Motivational speakers protest contentment as the path to complacency. I think the answer lies somewhere inbetween; in the wisdom of changing what you can, accepting what you can’t, and knowing the difference.
Living in Michigan was a twenty-three-year-old’s choice for an entertaining 5 years. Committed to being a California girl, hanging out in the Midwest for a while sounded adventurous. Of course it would have to be Michigan. Who could possibly keep their sanity living farther than two hours away from endless water?
Fourteen years later, I still haven’t figured Michigan out.
The cold: wearing layers, obsessively talking about weather, men who think that houses should be kept at 62 degrees, companies that think stores should be kept at 80 degrees, schools that think that every room should have a different temperature, and finding out it’s the principal’s job to create individual temperature habitats for every employee. Not to mention everyone’s eagerness to be hypnotized and paralyzed by the word “snow”.
The culture: In a single day, I can drive to up to five distinctly separate worlds – Downriver, Detroit, Northville, Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, and Royal Oak. Now that I’ve started to keep friends in each of these pockets, I have to keep a cheat sheet to know if I’m supposed to be hip-hopping and blinging, singing country, wearing Chanel, exercising my political right to criticize, or choosing my words carefully and hiding from my students’ parents. Sure, California has distinctly different feels and cultural textures all over the state. I just can’t drive to them all in a day or find a larger group of similar looking people spreading themselves out over such a wide range of attitudes.
Living in Michigan is nothing I can change. Every day I long to see my family, be warm all the time, hear and speak Spanish regularly, plan to be outside and never have the weather cancel my plans, take in the smells of agriculture and the mountains and the ocean.
Accepting what I can’t change is a huge component of peace.
Indeed, I have come to be content. Michigan has something over California. Yes, every Midwesterner’s greatest trump card. In any conversation. It has seasons. For 10 years, I pretended they didn’t exist. But over the past four years, I have grown with and been comforted by the seasons. Like every Michigander, my life now fits around a pattern of behaviors and activities that align with the seasons. Flowers, decorations, foods, sports, yardwork, complaints, and conversations are uniquely assigned a season. And there is something deeply peaceful about the routines, rituals, and variety.
This picture shows the kind of seasonal irony I now anticipate. The blanket of snow as a backdrop for my favorite flower: the tulip. I am so grateful that tulips are in season (a.k.a. sale) at this time of the year. It reminds me that the snow is about to leave and the spring flowers are right around the corner. There is no other sight that brings me such an endearing and affectionate feeling toward Michigan.
In the end, Christian is eternally grateful he was born in Michigan, NOT California. Because this way he “gets to grow up with snow”. And that is really all that matters.