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finding the fog

Fayeth Henningsen
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"Frog Rests in the Night"

Wyatt Hoffman

626.2 miles. 626.2 miles away from everything I knew. Away from busy Davenport streets. Away from cell-reception. Away from the Iowa sunrise. It was David, Kentucky. A place where things are different… for the better? I wasn’t sure. Not until now.

For as long as I can remember, sunrises have always intrigued me. They are repetitive yet new at the same time. Similar, but yet worlds of difference are between them every morning. No sunrise has ever been the same. Sometimes the light yellow beams are subtle, piercing the sky with just enough light to dust the tops of corn stalks and grass shavings. Other times though, the sunlight is enormously strong. Sweet shades of pinks and tangerine oranges contradict the darkened sky. The sunrise is what makes Iowa beautiful. But can a place’s beauty be seen when a sunrise is erased? I traveled to a place where the sun was hidden. I can confirm that beauty can, in fact, be found where the sun cannot invade.

Ten hours and forty-two minutes passed and we were finally to our destination. The twelve-passenger minivan was starting to feel cramped and I was ready to escape to stretch my legs. One noisy fly had traveled from St. Ann’s church to St. Vincent’s Mission house along with ten growly children and two groggy adults. I had slept most of the way, except for the few times I glanced through the open space of luggage bags to look out the window. 

The minivan’s single sliding door opened and me and the poor fly flew outside. The mission house was a commonly made, a two story house with a wooden porch that spanned the whole front side of the exterior. An old man, whose name I found out later was Greg, sat on one of the mismatched stools pulling strings on his banjo. He looked like he was a statue. The only thing that confirmed he was not was the short quiet puffs of air that came when his chest would rise and fall. I assumed he was stuck in sad, deep thoughts listening to the music he was creating. Oh, how wrong I was.

We were assigned our job sites for the next six days. My group was asked to repair a collapsing kitchen floor for a 50-year-old woman under the name of Miss Stephanie and her obnoxious little chihuahua, Chole. Her house was located just three miles away from our mission house. Five of us teenagers, a passionate tour guide father, and a couple of power tools tore out old subflooring, replaced rotten floor joists, and finished the kitchen floor. 

To say our job was hard would be an understatement. It seemed simple but with every improvement we made, new problems set in. There was only one electric outlet in the house to run saws and drill batteries, but it tripped every five minutes. Normal houses have one layer of subflooring but this was quadrupled thanks to previous workers who just added more instead of actually fixing the problem. All the layers were stuck together with so much wood glue, it took full force of a grown man and a pickaxe to tear out just a few square inches of flooring. Gas lines and water pipes were everywhere, daring us to trip on them and turn the house to ash or mud. And, not to mention the upper ninety degree heat made us tired by nine in the morning. 

Every day we left to work at six in the morning, saw the poorest of the poor in the depths of the David, Kentucky, mountains, and came back to the house covered in sawdust, sweat, and in some instances, tears.

On day two, I was tearing out the remaining subflooring, lost my footing, and fell through the kitchen floor, slamming my head into the ground. A stupid mistake had left me with blood from a three-inch abrasion in my hairline, a goose egg on my forehead, a minor concussion, and a bumped gas line which turned into an even bigger problem by day three. I cried. Cried because of the pain. Cried because of the exhausting work. Cried because I felt guilty having a nice house when others did not. 

We went back to the mission house, ending the night on the front porch. The trees left each of us in our own thoughts. Nothing was said to try and brighten the mood. Greg was sitting on the same mismatched stool as before, only looking up to scan the emotions projected on my face every couple minutes. Time passed with no words spoken. The old man with gray hair convinced me we were both sulking in deep sadness. Oh, how wrong I was. 

I was determined to wake up for the sunrise on day five. I longed to find happiness, calmness to balance out the unsettling mood of our trip. I used what little internet access I had to look up the time at which the sunrise would be seen off the mission house front porch. For some reason, the porch seemed to call me. 

I woke up that morning, walked down the stairs, to the porch, and waited. 6:30am came and no sunrise was found. I had realized that the only thing I was going to see was the tall mountainous trees and the morning fog. The stiff fog laid itself on the tops of the trees and into the poor valley as if it was an unwanted blanket. The trees hid the sunrise from me. The fog invaded, distancing my vision and my happiness. Trees and fog. What an awful pair. Oh, how wrong I was.

Day six came, the kitchen floor was finished. My team and I fixed a gas leak, dealt with termites, and replaced Miss Stephanie’s plumbing as well. Miss Stephanie was happier than I had seen her all week. I was confused. How could our band aids to her broken bone of a house make her happy in a place with the poorest of the poor? How could she feel so happy when she was surrounded by trees and fog?

Sometimes the fog and the realness of the world are more important than a mixture of orange and yellow hues. Our sunrise may not be seen from every place on earth but yet the warmth and happiness can still be felt. Nothing in life can forever feel good. Life will always have fog and uncertainty. It will always have poverty and stress and concussions. But these are the things that can open someone’s eyes the most. Sunrises are beautiful but so is pain. Sunrises show beauty. Fog shows pain. Both are necessary. 

I sat on that front porch for the rest of the time we were on our mission trip. For the first time, I turned to Greg and didn’t see sadness. I saw peace. The rise and fall of his chest matched the sounds coming from his banjo. The height of the trees, the stillness of the branches, and the whistle of the birds made Greg and so many people in Kentucky happy. 

Our Iowa sunsets will always appear over our miles and miles of fields. But in David, Kentucky, you get none of that. It’s excruciatingly hot, sulkingly stiff, painfully poor, yet unbelievably beautiful. I wait for a time to feel that same morning fog again. To feel the gray stillness of the world. To be engaged by the size of the green trees and shrubs. David, Kentucky, made me realize that happiness doesn’t have to mean yellow shining skies but that it can be foggy-gray too.

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