Onalaska

The past several weeks I have made a few trips to West Wisconsin. One trip was to University of LaCrosse with Josh to tour campus and the other a business trip to Minneapolis for meetings with leadership from their Behavioral Health System. As I approached the Wisconsin/Minnesota border during each trip, I continued to have the same flood of memories. The trips brought their own scheduling challenges yet my determination to stop at Onalaska Wisconsin mounted. I was on a mission to stop at the visitor center located right on the Mississippi River. The river has many memories of my past. Onalaska is a transition marker between Minnesota and Wisconsin. This passage point has significant meaning in my life on many levels.

A memory of Onalaska was the dozens and dozens of trips we made to Mayo with my Father while he struggled with illness. Some of the trips held promise for recovery while others did not. The purpose of the trips were typically because his condition had worsened. Our hope was that the physicians would find a solution. We would always make the best of the trip, visiting, listening to my Father tell stories during the 5 hour trip while stopping our favorite truck stop restaurants. During each trip we would also stop at the Mississippi at my Father’s insistence.

 

 We would sit on the bench near the river to enjoy the water, crisp fresh breeze in reflection. In those years my Father never stopped talking. He would talk about the past, he enjoyed the present while creating hope for the future. No matter how hard life got he naturally kept faith by emphasizing the sliver lining in life’s struggles. I have been thinking about my Father a lot the past month. I was reminded of a valuable lesson he taught me as a person, a father and a human being. He demonstrated this lesson, not through his words or judgement but by example. The lesson was as simple as his character. His ability to keep faith in the possibilities, never giving up while relentlessly building the spirit of everyone around him.

On my trip to the river bank I was eager to revisit our space to discover that it had vanished. It is replaced by cement trucks, bulldozers clearing the path for a new highway. I was sad at first, then quickly recovered because while the bench was gone my memory of the enchanted river bank lives strong in my heart.

The colleague I was traveling with endured my stories of the river, the bench, my hope and confidence in the future. Coincidentally, during dinner the night before our travel, he shared how he thought it was cool that I strengthened the spirit of others.

As I laid awake that evening, I was thankful for that gift from my Father.

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