By Gail Song Bantum
Did you know that where we live (the place we inhabit) shapes how we are formed by those spaces? I’ve found this to be particularly true over the past six years living in the great Pacific Northwest, and Seattle, WA specifically. I’ve been an East Coast girl for all of my adult life, from NY to Atlanta and many cities in between, before moving out to Seattle. When we decided to move for my husband’s job six years ago, I never thought that it would change how I interacted in the world – with others and with myself.
For those who may not know, Seattle is quite a beautiful city with steep hills and valleys, views of snow-capped mountains to the east and west, majestic views of Mt. Rainier, islands to the west, water views of the Puget Sound and various lakes scattered around the city. Typically in the summer, if you know the right spots, you can witness all of it in one clear panoramic shot. It’s beautiful! However, as is typical, beauty comes at a cost. For eight to nine months of the year, Seattle is a formidable combination of clouds, literal darkness for longer hours (think: a more gracious version of Alaska), drizzle, and “sun breaks” scattered throughout. That’s actually a thing.
First of all, I didn’t realize how much people need the sun. A medical condition that folks struggle with here is called SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and it’s for real! After about four years in, our family came to the conclusion that between the months of December – June, we really weren’t turning into introverted chronic life-haters who loved sleep and coffee more than school, work and people in general! Much to our relief, the problem was that we were all severely vitamin D deficient. So, we’ve learned to medicate ourselves accordingly and life is so much more promising now!
The fact is we’re not the only ones. There is a rhythm of life we’ve discovered here – a kind of discipleship, if you will. The combination of vitamin deficiency and long periods of drizzle and darkness make us want to pull up our North Face hoodies, rush to dry ground, huddle up somewhere cozy, drink hot coffee, read a book, be cynical and mind our own business. Sometimes a simple hello to our neighbor is work to muster up, even for the most loving extrovert among us. Practically, I’ve also noticed that I rarely ever wear high heels anymore like I used to. After I ruined a few pairs early on in soaking puddles of rain, it just wasn’t worth it. Since everyone else around me was wearing rubber rain boots and hoodies, I lacked the will power to strut all by myself. While I still don’t wear hoodies (because my hair still matters), my feet seem to have made the transition.
Truth be told, I wasn’t much of an outdoorsy person in general prior to Seattle. I loved air- conditioned malls and youth soccer games that were canceled at the threat of rain. In Seattle, life carries on rain or shine for obvious reasons. And, because it really is beautiful with many mountain trails and picturesque spots to camp and hike, many people would rather be outdoors than stuck in a mall. Needless to say, I’ve used my first port-a-potty EVER since being in Seattle, camped in a tent with the threat of bears and creatures with small feet, hiked in snow, and almost lost my mind nearly tempted to pee in the wild in desperation…
As centered in my identity as I thought I was prior to Seattle, it’s true that places continue to form and shape us in new and sometimes surprising ways. I’m desperate for sun these days. I hang out of my car window to maximize exposure every chance I get. I find myself mentioning the sun being out to folks every time I travel to other places: “Isn’t the sun AMAZING?!!!” And in turn, I get weird looks. I’m okay with that. I love hikes with my family. I actually love camping too…with a bathroom and portable kitchen, that is. I drink am addicted to coffee more now than ever before. I’ve turned into a homebody of sorts. I’d rather cuddle under a blanket on rainy days than go to the mall. I love my addidas kicks and my well-worn chucks. I’m a bit more reclusive. And, I have grown to love and appreciate the earth and God’s creative artistry upon it.
When we think about our lives of discipleship and place, how would you say that your “place” has shaped you?