Two weeks ago, Pastor Walter Mitty decided to bring communion to two of his shut-ins, Aunt Dolly and her husband Adolf. The dashboard in his car said the temperature outside was 33 degrees. It was one of those cold, rainy mornings that chilled a person to the bone.
When he walked in their apartment, Adolf was watching WGN and their Dachshund, named Wiener, was on Aunt Dolly’s lap. Both were snoring.
“Tom Skilling says it’s going to get nasty today,” was Adolf’s greeting as his pastor took his usual seat in the rocking chair by the window.
“It’s already nasty,” said Mitty with a smile.
The date on the calendar on Mitty’s desk read Feb. 16. Sure enough, Tom Skilling had the prediction right, and by noon the pavement was covered with black ice.
That evening he didn’t feel like cooking so he made a quick supper of sandwiches with Johnsonville summer sausage and Natural Ovens whole wheat bread. After microwaving the sandwiches, he opened a bottle of Spotted Cow, lit a candle on the coffee table in the living room, and watched the snowstorm ongoing outside.
He had turned up the heat when he got home from his office, but he still felt chilled, so after dinner he covered his lap with the afghan made of granny squares his mother had crocheted for him as an ordination present 20 years ago.
Instead of turning on the TV, he found himself staring out the living room window at the snow being driven horizontally by the roaring 40-mile-an-hour wind, which made the naked tree branches, festooned with frozen raindrops outside his window, swing violently back and forth.
He lost track of time, mesmerized by the storm. It was like what happened to him when he was camping at Point Beach. He would stare at the campfire or the waves rolling in off Lake Michigan for the longest time. The cozy lap blanket his mother had made for him made him feel not only warmed but safe, like he used to feel after his dad had tucked him into bed.
He decided that “contentment” was the word he would use to describe how he was feeling.
Two days earlier on Valentine’s Day, the word was “lonely.” On the whole he didn’t mind being single and a card from Susan and his two nephews back in Manitowoc had made him feel somewhat connected, but still … he realized that something was missing.
But this Thursday evening as he watched the storm from his cozy vantage point, contentment was what he was feeling. “Hozho” was the word that came to his mind. Mitty was a fan of Tony Hillerman’s novels set in Navajo country. From them he had learned the concept means “balance and beauty and harmony.”
He wasn’t a religious pluralist by any stretch of the imagination, but still there were often images from other worldviews that resonated with his Christian sensibilities.
His thoughts then segued to John Fetterman. The newly elected senator from Pennsylvania had checked himself into Walter Reed Hospital to be treated for clinical depression, and Mitty remembered Fetterman’s wife saying, “I’m so proud of him for asking for help and getting the care he needs.”
Mitty was also in the middle of reading Jason Kander’s book Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD. What motivated the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church to buy the book was a review he read saying, “Jason announced a bid for mayor of Kansas City instead and was headed for a landslide victory. But after 11 years battling PTSD from his service in Afghanistan, Jason was seized by depression and suicidal thoughts. He dropped out of the mayor’s race and out of public life. And finally, he sought help.”
“Donald Trump,” thought Mitty, “would probably call Fetterman and Kander ‘losers’.”
His eyes traveled back to the storm raging outside his living room window.
Somehow winter storms and campfires and big waves on Lake Michigan brought him back to earth, so to speak. Back to the Earth where it felt like home.
He had been listening to WBEZ on the way home from Adolf and Dolly’s house and the report was about the fentanyl epidemic rampaging across the country. The report said that the drug creates a state of euphoria in a person and added that the drug is often lethal.
“Hozho definitely is this side of euphoria,” Mitty said to himself. “Maybe the better state is contentment or finding your place in the universe. Or maybe it’s the peace that passes understanding.”
Pastor Walt remembered somebody saying that when adolescents do their development stage right, they figure out that life includes pain as well as pleasure. Loneliness on Valentine’s Day and contentment while watching a storm.
Sure enough, when he got up Friday morning, the sky was blue, the wind had grown quiet, and the sun was warming the Earth.