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THE BLEAK HEREAFTER

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THE BLEAK HEREAFTER

Cindy Maddera

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There's a stretch of Hwy 169 between Kansas City and Coffeeville KS. It's a two lane stretch between some small town and the junction with Hwy 400. When you're driving this section of highway, even though the speedometer shows your speed to be 75 miles an hour, it actually feels like you are standing still in the middle of the road. The road becomes a concrete gray swath between fields and train tracks. And you feel like you are going no where. It is at this moment when a bubble of impatience begins rise up from my belly. The weight of the drive begins to settle between my shoulders. This is the place where I have to make the choice to let the road lead me into crazy town or give in to the nothingness of it. I check the speedometer again and let go. I stop thinking of the path ahead of me and just be in this spot of nowhere. Because it is temporary. I had all these thoughts and stories from the weekend. They are jumbled in my head in pieces that do not seem to congeal into one coherent tale. If I think too hard about it in words, it sounds depressing. In reality, there were many parts of the weekend that were sad and depressing. A visit with Dad where he's reached that point of not knowing who I am or at least can't speak to say one way or the other. A service or celebration of life for a dear man. Returning to the space where three years earlier we had all gathered to celebrate Chris's life. It was rough. When Robin walked up to the front porch of the McClellen Castle and asked how I was doing, tears leaked out as I said "good".

I was thinking of John last week and it lead me to think of all the amazing people I've been privileged to have in my life. I don't know what I expected when I moved my things into that dorm room nearly twenty years ago. I knew I'd get a good education, meet some new friends, and gain some freedom and independence. I never expected to walk away with a family. I always assumed that every one left college with the same crazy amazing gaggle of a family. We all grew up together from poor college kids, through divorces and deaths and heartbreak. What I discovered is that the family I gained in college is unique, not just because of the people, but because of the connection we have made with each other. Yeah, the weekend was hard, saying goodbye never gets easier. If it was easy, those connections would be meaningless.

Once a year, they do a control burn of the Flint Hills. As I drove home, I ended up driving through the aftermath of this year's burn. Miles and miles of scorched earth stretched out around me. The smoke was still thick in the air. When I stopped in Emporia to pay the toll, the smell burnt fields filled the car. The land looked so foreign and bleak, but they do this to facilitate new growth. I know the next time I pass through that area, the hills will be green with new growth, new life. I was reminded of the good things of the weekend, the laughter, the joy of being able to hug this family of mine. Next time I travel through the Flint Hills it will be to celebrate the birth of little Charlotte. We'll be welcoming a new member to our crazy amazing gaggle. I think after too many goodbyes, we've earned the right to say hello to this new soul.

So say we all. And thank you to the Force.