The irises are blooming, purple and regal like they deserve to sit near any throne in a palace. Yet I found them not in a castle but popping up through the Minnesota soil. It’s good earth, I’ve always been told, rich and lush. Black, the color of the night sky, full of nitrogen. Most of the good earth in Minnesota grows corn. The corn is for cows, corn for a gasoline substitute, or sweet corn for people to devour after slathering it with butter and salt on a hot humid day in August.
I am a Minnesota girl—sort of, but I don’t really feel like it anymore. I spent the last ten years living in another place. One without corn, or fat black and white dairy cows, or rich earth the color of ink.
My husband and I moved to Afghanistan and worked with an international aid organization. The dirt in Afghanistan is insipid. It is pale and sandy like the topsoil has all been worked away by a thousand of years of the sweat-laden brows of farmers. In Afghanistan, this drab dirt grows wheat, which shoots up green in the springtime and turns the color of the sun, when it is time to harvest. It also grows roses, beautiful gorgeous roses of every color imaginable.
A friend of mine from Michigan brought in irises to grow in her garden in Afghanistan. The first year, they were small, but when the regal, purple-hued petals opened, I smiled, remembering how in springtime in Minnesota I loved the irises.
But the irises were a transplant. They didn’t do well. The second year, there were fewer, and even fewer the year after that. My friend suspected the bulbs had all been eaten by a resident tortoise.
For a while, I felt that I was going to go the way of the irises in the Afghan soil. I asked why God brought me all the way from Minnesota. I’d grown up with corn fields and Minnesota niceness; now I lived in a place that didn’t understand me.
I didn’t know. But, I was pretty sure God did, so I stayed.
I adapted to drinking tea with crushed cardamom, kissing women on the cheeks in greeting, and learning about the joys and the tears of life in this misunderstood place. The language began to take shape and meaning and I began getting responses to my attempts to speak the local language. I adapted enough to call it my home for almost ten years; I exchanged my love for irises for a love of blooming roses in the sandy soil.
Now I am back in Minnesota and things have changed here. I have changed. I’m a Minnesota girl—but not really anymore. Now Minnesota politeness feels like a barrier to getting to really know people. I am trying to grapple with the anger I sense in America. I am trying to find my purpose and meaning here at home.
This morning I saw the purple irises blooming in all God’s glory as I walked my happy little dog. I remembered the irises that had been transplanted in Afghanistan; I remembered my long-ago uncertainty.
God, why have you brought me back to the land of corn and cows and Minnesota politeness, when I had adjusted so well? I am not really sure…but I know God is. My sense of place isn’t where I dwell. My sense of belonging began from the moment I placed my hand in God’s and said, I’ll go with you. Lead the way.
Image credit: Peter Miller