“The land belongs to the future, Carl; that's the way it seems to me. How many of the names on the county clerk's plat will be there in fifty years? I might as well try to will the sunset over there to my brother's children. We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it--for a little while.”
― Willa Cather, O Pioneers!
As I was leaving the Pinnacle Bank Arena and the State Volleyball Tournament last Friday night, I came across part of the quote above from the famous Nebraskan Author Willa Cather, which was artistically displayed in the large foyer. Being a Nebraskan my whole life, I shamefully admit I had never heard this quote from arguably the greatest author to ever call Nebraska home. As my wife and I drove away, something struck a cord with me and the quote has lingered in my head ever since. Where do we truly call home?
I am not a Milford native. I did not grow up here or even in the area. I have no family here (except my own) and prior to 2002 I had no connection to this place. The only thing I knew about Milford, prior to that time, was that in the mid 90's they had a really good football team. Fortunately for me, I hit the jackpot when I landed my first job.
Back in 2002, I didn't know that the future would hold for me and my young family. I was newly married and our daughter Calyn was a month old when we moved into a small apartment on Fairway Drive. At the time, Milford was just a place to live for at least a year. I figured I would give this teaching thing a try and if something better came along I would be willing to entertain the thought of moving on. Also, my wife was student teaching that fall and we didn't know what opportunities might present themselves to us. But sometime during those first years something special happened, we fell in love with this place.
Milford has become home. It is where we have chosen to go to church, buy a house, and ultimately raise a family. I believe in what this school and community offers for us. Milford is a community that rallies around its school and offers support to the students, families, and patrons in too many ways to count. It is a small town with conservative views, while providing "big town" opportunities with Lincoln only 20 miles to the East. I feel as if my family and I "own" it, or at least a small part of it on 6th street.
As Cather said so eloquently, "We come and go, but the land is always here." Fifty years from now, I can almost guarantee a Mowinkel will be hard to find in Milford. Just as I don't have any real connection to the hometowns of my grandparents (Brunswick, Gretna, Magnet, or Elkhorn), my descendants will most certainly have no other connection to Milford except that I once lived here. But that's ok. Hopefully, they too will find a place they can grow to love and enjoy and most importantly call home, at least "for a little while."
Last week I was fortunate to set out on a journey (of sorts) and attend the Storyline Conference held in Chicago. Prior to attending the conference I knew one thing was for certain, I would probably know absolutely none of the other 1800 people in attendance. Being somewhat of an introvert, at least in these types of situations, was going to be an obstacle I needed to overcome if I wanted to get the most out of my conference experience and more importantly not become the guy who sits in the back row and only observes. What I soon came to realize is that regardless of where we are from, the situations we are in, the experiences we have, or the path we have taken to get here, we all have a story and these stories are worth telling.
Storyline far exceeded my expectations, providing the attendees with many great inspirational speakers and experiences intended to help one reflect upon their own life's story. From the film festival, to the opening sessions, the concerts, the keynotes, and writer's workshop; I was able to gain a better understanding of who I am, the story I have lived, and how I can write a better story moving forward. While all of these experiences proved valuable, what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to listen and learn about the stories of so many people, from varied backgrounds and with a myriad of experiences.
As I left the conference on Saturday, I realized that I was not only saying goodbye to four great days of learning and reflection, but also to many amazing people I know I would never see again face to face. While many of these newly formed friendships can live on through our interactions on Twitter and Facebook, the possibility of sitting down for a meal or chatting about our latest ventures over a cup of coffee is unrealistic. I truly thank all of those people that took to the time to ask the most popular question of the conference, "What's your story" and allow me to share my story with them. Hopefully, my story struck a chord with somebody because I know I was inspired by all of yours. Thanks again to the following people for taking the time to talk to a stranger from Nebraska and share your story with me.
Brandon--The carpenter and Young Life leader from Denver
Rick--Youth Counselor from Michigan
Ben--World renowned Opera singer from Toronto
Terri and Catherine--Two amazing women from Grand Rapids, Michigan
Brian and Betsy--Youth Pastor and stay at home mother of five from Worthington, MN
Robbie--Educational consultant from Indiana
Ester-Writer from Berlin
Erika--Writer/Blogger from New York City
The new parents from Chicago, originally from Aurora, Nebrasaka
Milford Jr/Sr High Principal