15As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
I think of my grandfather’s farm site, the place where my dad was born and grew as a boy. When I was but six, dad went to work dismantling everything that stood there. The barn was taken down and its lumber was reused to build granaries at home in our yard. The house and other buildings were dismantled. Everything was cleared away and the land was broken and crops grew where the buildings and corrals once stood. Now those who drive by that old farm yard on the road see no trace that of the yard and buildings that once stood there. The house and home have disappeared completely from the face of the earth. As Psalm 103 says, “it is gone, and its place knows it no more.”
Recently, my siblings and I decided to sell the land that had been in the family for over a century; land that had belonged to our grandfather. This decision affected all of us emotionally.
“I think I am experiencing grief at the sale of the land. I am in mourning. Perhaps we should wear black. I will be OK I think, but it is still painful. It is a big loss. My head and my heart are out of sync. I am happy that we still have each other.”
I feel that I know that land like no other. It is my land, and I even feel that that land knows me. It has seen me from my earliest years. I was a baby, a boy, then a teenager on that land, in that place. I became familiar with every slough and every slope; I spent Saturdays as a boy exploring the rugged hills of the coulee together with my brothers.
The farm, this plot of ground, this place has always existed in my mind as my geographic center or North Pole—the place from which I looked out on the world. Even when I moved away from home, this place remained the imaginary and emotional center of my universe.
Now all of that has changed—and I am struggling to understand how to get oriented in my life without such a North Pole. I feel like I must now live in a landscape that looks the same as before, but which now can no longer be defined in terms of North or South, East or West. My old compass no longer works—the needle turns back and forth aimlessly, unaffected by any magnetic field. That piece of earth was where my life began, it was the place from which I looked out on the world, the center of my geographic sense of the world—and continued to be the place within my imagination that was my center.
What has happened in this community is the story of what has happened across the prairies as a whole. Farms have gotten larger and the rural population has diminished. Dozens of small rural churches now stand empty on Sunday mornings. Small towns and villages have lost stores and the railway.
With such profound changes, I sometimes wonder what sense of rootedness my children and grandchildren will have. They are disconnected from their ancestors, their heritage, and the farm. What this means for the future or regarding the meaning of my family’s history from generation to generation, I do not know.
One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. . . For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock. . . . What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Ps. 27:5, 7, 17