My name is Velma Brendle, and I live in Leeway, Kansas. That's in the southeast corner of the state, not far from Oklahoma or Missouri. You might know where Leeway is if you were related to someone here or if your car broke down here when you were headed somewhere else. Otherwise, you'll go the length of your life without ever paying us a visit. We don't mind that as much as you might think. A lot of people are meant to go into the bigger world, and they grow up in a place like Leeway and leave it when they're grown. We see them packing up, and we say that

But some of us belong in Leeway or some other such town. Our lives are full of loved ones and a landscape that's old and that belongs to us. I sit under an oak tree in my back yard that my grandmother planted. Our family has cared for this tree through all kinds of seasons, splinting it after lightening struck and treating it for bagworms. I wouldn't say that I own the tree, but we do have a connection. It's important to me, as silly as that might sound to someone who has moved around a lot and lived in different places. Some of us just aren't meant to move. We're for staying and caring for things and keeping track and preserving the photographs and clippings that long-lost cousins or grandchildren will need in another thirty or forty years, coming back to Leeway to sell Mom's house or look for somebody's baptismal record. I'm proud to be one who stays. A lot of people in Leeway feel that way.

It's not a very big town-barely more than twelve hundred people. There's not a lot of money here. Portions of it are pure trailer park. But other parts are old and tree-lined and deep with color. My block is shaded almost completely by oaks and maples-sturdy, tall ones that also shaded the town's families three generations ago. Most months of the year, my back yard is cool and sun-dappled.

For thirteen years, I've operated Leeway's only real restaurant. It's six blocks from my house, down Pickins Street. On top of that, I janitor at Jerusalem Baptist Church, where I am also a member. The janitor job requires only a few hours a week, but it fills a need in my life. The sanctuary, with its high ceiling and tall, frosted windows, has always been a soothing place, especially during the afternoon when I'm the only one there. The cleaning doesn't feel like work, just something to keep my hands and eyes busy while my soul is doing other things. The windows let in light, but any objects or people outside are only shadows going by. I can't see them, and they can't see me. It's a good arrangement. Even during worship services, it's nice to have the light but not the distractions. Pickins is one of the main streets in town, and there's always some little drama going by. As it is, a good many Sunday mornings we can hear Maria Dalmazio calling for her cat, Theo. We can tell by the different pitches of her voice that she's walking up the street and calling, then turning around and walking the opposite direction and calling a little louder. As if she didn't know that silly cat would come home when it was good and ready. We just chuckle and go on worshipping. But if the windows were clear, don't you know we'd be craning our necks to see her go back and forth.

I have believed in Jesus nearly my whole life. That's not to say that I understand him much. I do trust him more than I used to. But it still bothers me that after all these years, Jesus hasn't offered an opinion or an explanation about my fevers and dreams. Some prayers you pray, and you really know the answer, but you just need some encouragement. Other prayers just take you toward questions and discomfort. I don't understand why this is so. But I've tried to build the habit of giving my fevers to the Lord. Some things you know you can't control anyway.

But these days I'm feeling at ordinary times the way I used to feel during fevers. Dizzy and slow and struggling to understand as scenes appear in front of me. Life itself has become a complicated dream, and I want more and more to slip out of it and find all the people who have drifted up into the chilly blue air.

I suppose I know why it seems that everything important has slipped out of my grasp. A lot of bad things have happened lately. In fact, the past two years have tried Leeway's people to the end of their resources. I've watched people lose important things, and it's made me shut my lips tight and fret against God. It's made me wonder what could be so important about pain that it should visit-so often and so freely-the people I love.

I may never understand, truly, the events that hurt all of us so. But I've decided that life has patterns, and those patterns repeat themselves. They don't go the same way twice, but the same ten or twenty lessons keep working their way out. It seems that, over the past few years, lessons about death and loss just kept repeating, like the chorus of a bad hymn, the kind with a clunky rhythm and odd words and an unlovely melody that plays through your mind for days afterward.