My husband and I were born on the very same day. Our birthday was on Saturday. To commemorate the occasion, we traveled to Eau Claire, Wisconsin to visit our college Alma Mater. Eau Claire is dear to me. It is the place I first met my husband, one Friday night in the Murray Hall dorms. It is a place that nourished and held me in a warm hug for the five years I was lucky enough to live there. It was such a lovely place to grow into the first adult version of myself. Sure, I was in college and had to keep up with the rigors of my class schedule – but the city of Eau Claire has never demanded anything from me. It was a safe haven; home in a way that I had never known before.
My parents did not have happy childhoods. Although they wanted to be different than their parents were, my mom and dad were often too sad – too traumatized – too haunted by their past to have much to give to their sweet little girl. What a parent is supposed to provide for their child is what my parents still longed for themselves. My role as their only child was to keep our lives afloat. I had to keep my parents heads above water long enough that they could care for my basic needs. I had to buoy them enough that they might lift their gaze and notice me. Living in Eau Claire gave me a ninety mile buffer from my parent’s wounds and my inherited full-time responsibilities. That physical distance gave my sweet soul an invitation to come out of hiding, and look around.
Eau Claire swaddled my first conscious glimpses of inner light. I would walk along the neighborhood streets by myself, and for the first time I did not feel so lonely. I was connected to something – to spring buds on the trees, to the smell of a gentle rain shower, to the bright colors of a fanciful house I’d walk past. I could feel the smile of a friendly stranger. I could open my arms, close my eyes and breathe.
Every time I visit Eau Claire now, I remember and honor the part the city played in showing me that life did not have to be so heavy. When I was socked in with grief, the city offered me a cozy coffee house to rest within. When I felt trapped under the weight of expectations that were not my own, the city offered me a park bench to rest upon. The city offered me beautiful things and places to play. The city offered me reasons to be curious. Opportunities to be spontaneous. The city offered me hope.
At the end of our weekend visit, my husband and I took a drive around Eau Claire’s largest park. We stopped and got out of the car to admire the sounds and smells of a freshly thawed marsh. As we turned to leave, an osprey glided slowly into the marsh. I exclaimed with glee at the sight of this large, sleek bird. The osprey soared lower and circled closer as we watched. Suddenly, his focus sharpened to a spot on the water. His wings contracted and he entered a magnificent free fall. We lost sight of him for a moment behind the tree line. But then, “Splash”! The sound of his contact with the water was electrifying. My husband and I looked at each other with child-like wonder. Looking back out onto the marsh, the osprey had risen again right to our eye level. With amazement, we saw that he held a shiny fish in his talons. Our mouths dropped open. We felt so acutely blessed to witness this beauty and strength. So remarkably humbled to be a part of this wildness. So wonderfully connected to all that is alive.
Eau Claire never fails to hold sacred moments for me. This weekend was no exception. As the cities’ name suggests, I am grateful to have purifying moments within its clear waters. Until next time, my friend.