I recently drove across the country to reach my summer camp destination on the east coast. What follows is one of several real-life wandering stories from my incredible “Eastward Ho” adventure. Before I can talk about what I actually did upon my return to Milwaukee, I must first explain the magnitude of my initial arrival. I hope my feeble words translate some glimpse of what this momentous return meant to me.
Fond du Lac
Mitchell Park Domes
Oklahoma Ave 3
So many road-signs remaining with me long after I zipped by them, building up the most simultaneously tumultuous joy and dread I’ve experienced in 25 years.
I’d been listening to music and a Ted Dekker audio book from a borrowed iPod and a makeshift speaker since my dear Mitsy hasn’t possessed working speakers for over a year.
Then I just shut everything off. I needed silence.
Needed to absorb and mourn this bizarre and hallowed pilgrimage to the city that changed my life a year ago, altered it more than any black dot on the globe.
My joy/dread intensified with a teasing glance of Miller Park’s exoskeleton before the highway sank low and the stadium’s green retractable roof retreated beneath the tree-line.
I squirmed behind the wheel, and reality struggled to secure roots within me as the baseball stadium and big city buildings materialized about me: the next stop in my 4,000-mile trip across America was actually going to be Milwaukee.
The city where I invested three months of my life last summer.
The city where I connected with incredible church members, ministry contacts, the needy, and dozens of youth.
The city where I experienced true community and purpose and belonging for the first time in 24 years.
The city I did not at all want to leave last August.
The city that has caused me so much pain over the last year after being removed from its fruited borders.
The same city that, dare I say, now felt immensely more painful to reenter a year later.
Milwaukee represented – will forever represent – a significant turning point in my life, my story, my song. Last summer was filled with countless desperate beautiful joyous fulfilling moments, yet I felt only pain as the distinct outline of this mythical city filled my windshield once again.
I rode the 94 to the 794 and re-crossed the bridge I traversed a million times last summer. Looked out over gorgeous Lake Michigan as heavy tears tugged at my throat. Like a desperate, sloppy-bearded Jack Shephard returning to The Island, I’d come baaaaack.
A year ago I’d entered Milwaukee a broken hopeless wanderer with little to no expectations for community and purpose and genuine belonging this side of eternity.
And then I’d left Milwaukee with a fulfilling, agonizing taste of all three.
Now reentering Milwaukee a year later, I was wrecked. Desperately ruined from the inside out as I drove onward to Unity Lutheran Church, my housing site – my home – from last summer.
How should one react upon reentering Paradise? What does one do?
How would Adam and Eve have reacted if they’d been allowed to reenter Eden 500 years after God kicked them out? Would their initial response have been breathless joy, or would they too have felt unmistakable dread squelching their souls because of the beautiful painful sight of what had been so long lost?
My YouthWorks summer wasn’t exactly “Paradise” in lieu of scrambling to fill canceled volunteering schedules, dented staff vehicles, and three months of relational duress that made my introverted blood bubble.
But Milwaukee most certainly represents a personal Paradise in the sense that I undertook a clear/valued mission while also enjoying unexpected, indisputable community. Purpose and love collided into this Paradise that this restless wanderer still hasn’t completely experienced elsewhere.
I parked on all-too-familiar Logan Street and stepped from my vehicle, intercepted by two familiar faces approaching me.
“This is so weird,” I muttered, my first words back on Milwaukee soil. Looking back, I’m surprised I could utter a single word.
My heart and throat and soul felt destroyed. I’d just consumed the lethal potion of return. Returned to a Paradise that hadn’t changed and yet most certainly had in so many ways.
I’d have the rest of that night and the whole next day to explore this long lost Paradise and somehow survive the vicious emotional melee within.