Come walk with me

Come walk with me among the stones and trees, away from the distractions and we will reflect on what truly matters. . . .

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I Saw Them Rise

I was walking among the grave markers searching for the names of the men who fought in the Battle of the Blue 150 years ago this month, the American Civil War. The Gage Monument, erected by a soldier for his band of  brothers, was off to my left several yards. It stands sentinel in front of the mass grave of men killed in action. The figure on top, a Union soldier at parade rest, watches the sunset forever.

It was a brilliant Fall day. The grass yet green, the leaves golden and swirling in the air or hastened by the wind across the streets. I squinted to read the name on the stone, a name softened by time and the elements. A movement caught my eye, off to my left. Someone visiting a relative's grave no doubt. But there was no one there.

It was a wisp, a sweeping upward from the ground. Brief and beautiful, this mist rose and was gone, dissipated, faded, as the edges of memory fade.

I saw them rise.

The thought came and went as quickly as the vision.

And why should their souls not rise together as we come together to remember them? Why should the broken circle not be connected once more as soldiers who came after honor their sacrifices?

Yes, I saw them rise.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mother's Love

Long ago, a hopefully far more ignorant and yet well-meaning version of myself told my friend that I did not believe her dead mother was watching over her. I could not grasp, in my limited scope, how such a thing could be. In Heaven, there is no pain, no suffering. So how could those who love us, long gone, look back to earth and our troubled paths without hurting?

What a cruel thing to have said to her.

Another friend's mother committed suicide. After years of battling depression she was released from a hospital. She got up and had breakfast with her family and then went in the other room and shot herself.

At the funeral, the preacher spoke of how her motherly love was gone, but it was replaced with a bigger love, that her soul had returned to God. It did not seem comforting to me at the moment. The big love of God did not seem as welcoming as the softness of a mother's arms.

Where does God keep these souls? And if God can see everything, can these souls not see everything? If our actions cause God pain are these souls returned to him not feeling pain as well?

Sometimes I like to think my Mama is looking over me; sometimes I am grateful to think she cannot see. I hope I do not bring her pain because there was enough while she was alive. She was a good person, an humble person. She loved as God's servants love--in deed, in thought.

Why doesn't she come to me now? People see spirits all the time; some fairly stumble over ghosts, over messages from the beyond. It has been so long since Mama even visited me in a dream. Does it bring her too much pain?

So many days, I wish I could share moments with her -- hear her laugh, bring her joy and pride.

It would bring me comfort to know that she could feel those things from wherever her spirit dwells.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Set in Concrete

The rough lumber stacked at the edge of the yard made a form, a rectangle by our back door, plum and level.

Daddy mixed cement, sand and water in the wheelbarrow. I don't recall a mixer. I believe it was the wheelbarrow and he mixed it with a hoe. After he smoothed the concrete, I put my hands into the thick gray mud and we scratched the date below the imprint. Maybe my sister's hand prints were there, too. I cannot remember. I know her hand prints were beside mine on the carport.

Our hand prints were real -- short, chubby, child fingers preserved forever in homemade concrete.

* * * * * * * *

Jim Creed was the deacon at Round Peak Primitive Baptist Church. He was a large bald man before bald became chic. He had gruff ways. In his youth, he had killed a man though I do not remember the circumstances. It was probably over a still. It was always over a still. Yes, a moonshine still. All the cliches, all the stereotypes, they are true.Everyone made liquor as my Grandpa said. Everybody.

So, Mr. Creed was in prison, I think, when one of his children died. He was kind. He brought us candy, brown bags of hard candy and peppermints, just sacks of candy. He gave them to us children before the Saturday church conference meetings. He wore a pocket watch with a chain and he unlocked the door for church. When Daylight Savings Time was instituted, he did not follow it.

God, he said, was on Eastern Standard Time.

He made tombstones for his children, for a niece, from concrete. He pressed marbles, quartz, a necklace, into the form. He scratched their names into the gray mud. These markers were beautiful, so heartfelt, so pure. I ran my hands over the rough concrete, the smooth marbles, the indentations where pearls had slipped away. Lichen clung to the stones; moss crept into the cracks. It was as if the concrete markers were an organic thing--made from sand, from dust, from ash, from heartache, from sweat.

* * * * * * * *

When our first house burned, the concrete porch was left. It was covered in black ashes, molten glass, warped and blackened window frames. The carport was covered, too, with charred wood and heaps of ash. Wisps of smoke in the sunshine. . . . the acrid smell of a couch (newly upholstered), a bedroom wall with drawings of bunny families, baby quilts and a bunting bag, kitchen cabinets with oatmeal and brown sugar, new winter coats in the front closet, the cradle that Uncle Willie made, the new rooms, the--new rooms that would have been our bedrooms in our teenage years. The smell of loss seeped into our lungs, into our bloodstream, drew pictures of this day in our brains.

The concrete was there, blackened, but it was there. Our hand prints were filled with ash. The basement filled with ash. Mama sifted through them for days, looking for her wedding band. She never found it.

Days later, the remains of our home were bulldozed. The concrete was shoved up, broken, dropped, covered up. But it is there. Somewhere in the ground, our hand prints remain. . . . .

They were real. Don't tell me they were not real.

Photo by J. Denise Coalson, taken from Round Peak Primitive Baptist Church, Surry County, NC

Monday, October 20, 2014


What is it that divides us?  What is it that puts us on opposite sides of the river? What is it that transcends the veil, the veil of death, of darkness, of misunderstanding?

Jets from the coastal naval station flew impossible patterns, criss-crossing one another's paths, flying so near us that we could see the rivets that held these incredible machines together. As children, we watched these air shows daily. We heard them, we felt them.

The jets cosied up to the mountain sides, disappearing; we feared they were gone, crashed, when
suddenly they would swoop up like a hawk, shooting straight upward as a fallen star desperate to return to heaven. They were as a flash, a spark from a far away fire; they moved as light, their silver bodies like herring flitting and turning, diving and floating.

They flew faster than we could speak of it; before we could point and utter, look, look, the boom shook us, thrilled us, awakened in us the desire to let go, to follow them into the heavens and look back upon the earth. Boom. The jet passed through a veil we knew existed but could not see. We heard it; we felt it; we knew it was there.

The veil is open less than a second, two-tenths of a second. Joe Broyles captured that moment after five years of trying. What validation in seeing his image, as if the moments we had felt were confirmed. Seeing this image was like finding a long-buried treasure, a treasure held inside for eons. It spoke to me: I am not crazy. . . .  I did not imagine these things. . . . Those moments were real. . . . They happened. . . .

Some experiences are so incredible that even as we pass through them we question what is real. Yes, these things happened, in less than a blink of an eye.

Then they became myth.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nature's Last Green is Gold

Some days, the sun rises.

It rises gloriously,
generously, pouring out light like water on the landscape. It sweeps aside the darkness, gently and firmly. It comes as a lovely woman, made wholly of light. She treads lightly, speaks softly, and the grass rises to welcome her.

The animals of the night curl into their burrows, grateful for the daylight, thankful for the rest the dawn has brought. The heat warms the ground around them.

The leaves reflect her light as they flutter, falling slowly, relishing the breeze and the morning, until all is gold -- the sky, the earth, the very air is gold.

In the warmth of this light, there is no fear; it is dissipated, disappeared. There is nothing to fear, for the light has touched every living thing.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Gravedigger

Remember that scene from Hamlet, the "comic relief" with the gravediggers talking about who builds the best house?

What is he that builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright or the carpenter?
The gallows maker...for that frame outlives a thousand tenants.

But then comes the final answer when one gravedigger says to the other that the gravedigger builds the best house because it lasts til Doomsday.

Hamlet and Horatio happen upon the scene.Hamlet takes the skull of Yorick, the court jester, and wonders aloud where all the merriment has gone. He comments that Alexander the Great and Caesar both died, decayed, became dust and, perhaps, plaster in the wall.

What a downer Hamlet is.

Frankly, I like knowing that the dust of Alexander and Caesar covers my walls and keeps winter away. I feel badly when the plaster crumbles forcing me to sweep them up and toss them in the trash. I whisper good-bye to them.

Good-bye, Alexander, with your turquoise chips of paint. Good-bye, Caesar, with pieces of pink and green wall paper stuck to your ribs. . . .  Parting is such sweet sorrow. . . . Bless you. . . . .

There are worse fates than becoming plaster.

Sir Richard Burton as Hamlet

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Past Perfect

People like to say the Past is Past. Isn't that ridiculous? Could anything be further from the truth? People like to say that because they don't know what else to do with the Past, because they want the Past to be finished. They want to put the Past in the chiminea on the patio and light a match to the memories. They think this will make it go away. They think this will take away the pain.

Nothing can take away the Past.

It is ridiculous, but I understand. The Past is such a burden some days, so cumbersome. There are days I wish the Past would go away, especially my Past, especially the Great Wrongs I have committed. The times I hurt people because I was so empty and lost -- I wish that would pass. The truth is that the pain revisits me--the nausea of knowing you have hurt someone. I truly wish that gone forever.


If love never lasts forever, tell me, what's forever for?

Regret maybe? Maybe forever is all about regret. Is remorse the same as regret? Maybe forever is for repentance? What does that even mean?

Repent, Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!!

Yes, yes, the Kingdom is at hand. It is just around the corner. Up the street, maybe, a couple of blocks. Yes, the kingdom is there but it is also here, it is here, it is now, it is past, it is tomorrow, it is inside us.

All of us?

I don't know.

And that repentance that like, I'm sorry. Or is it like, I'm sorry!!! I'm so sorry!!! I won't do it again, I promise!!!! Forgive me!!!! Forgive me for I have sinned!!! Oh, how I have sinned!!! In the Past. Oh, and Now. Crap, Tomorrow, too. I have sinned Tomorrow, too.

The Past passes us, passes through us, around us, but it is always there--Omnipresent like God. We can no more remove it than we can live without lungs or arteries.

We must accept the Past.

Really? Really? Accept the Past? That is more ridiculous that forgetting it. How do you accept the fact that you were cruel and selfish, whether intentionally or not? How do you accept that people you loved lied to you? Bruised you? Sometimes, it was intentional. Sometimes, they looked at you as if you were that plate waiting to be smashed against the wall. Sometimes, they looked at you as if you were foreign, as if your hearts were not the same. How can you accept that?

It is not possible. It is, in fact, impossible.

I stuffed the Past under the bed, into the closet, into the basement and the attic. Still, I sat in my overstuffed chair and it came to rest on my shoulders, just like the cat, looking for a warm place to rest. I tried to shrug it off, but it kept coming back, bringing shadows of what is yet to come. I sighed, I gave in. I just gave in; it was so persistent, just refused to leave me alone. It wore me down.

All shadows are not dark. Some are shade, comforting shade from a light too intense, too bright, too revealing. I am made grateful, grateful for the shadows, grateful for the Past.

The Past is the piece we have now, all we know of who we are, but it is not All. It is our spirit guide, the shadow dancer who pulls us from dark places, reminds us of what it was like so that maybe, just maybe, we will not go there again. The Past plays flute, sometimes bagpipes. The notes resonate to places inside us we cannot consciously recall. But we possess those places somehow, the notes take us to a Past so long past that it was not even ours. Maybe it is a Past before we existed, Maybe it is all our Past, painful and lovely.

I have to go now. The Past is waiting for me to make coffee.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wake up, wake up

We were not yet married, my most recent husband and I, when his mother died. I held her hand and looked into her face. I knew she saw past me, to a place beyond me. It was such an intimate moment, and yet so if everyone dies.

The family gathered at the funeral home; she was pretty, peaceful, relieved. We went for Mexican food and then home to bed.

It was 2 a.m. I remember this plainly. The room was warm, too warm. I was so tired and tried to ignore the heat, but finally I roused and the house was full of smoke; it hung in russet layers like the grand canyon. We were not running the furnace, but using a space heater, so the layers of smoke were distinct, still. I woke my soon-to-be-husband and we walked through the house, searching for the fire, but no fire was found. We came back to our bedroom and turned on the light. The outside wall nearest my side of the bed was rolling and heaving as if liquid, or as if it were suddenly alive.

Isn't it funny how fire is alive?

He went outside and the flames were shooting up the wall, lapping at the ceiling above us. In mere moments, we would have been asleep forever.

Fire changes things.

The fireman's ax broke through the bedroom wall and January pulled the warmth away. Suddenly, our bedroom was laid bare to the world, and all that was precious seeped out onto the frozen ground. The bed was ruined. It was full of ash and cinders and plaster and had to be thrown away. The pretty bedspread, the pillows, the blankets all smelled of smoke. This was the bed where we had found each other, saved each other, and it was singed and dirty. 

His mother saved us. Everyone said so. She had dwelt among the angels only hours when she had to awaken us. Our smoke alarms did not sound. No, no one sounded an alarm while our bedroom was ablaze. It was her insistent spirit, wake up, wake up.

It was a sign, everyone said so, that she had awakened us as we were starting a new life. A new life. Like, another life. Like, we had been . . . not actually dead, but dead-like. I had been lonely, oh my God, how lonely I had been married before. The loneliness stretched so far inside of me it was as if a dark cloth was draped over my heart, like the blood could not flow there. And in this bed, all that changed, and my heart glowed, as if on fire; and my soul, glowed, as if on fire. It was as if I had been resuscitated, yes, given a new life.

I had been given a new life. 

I had awakened into fire. 

Soft Death

Granny and I used to walk up to the church where our people were buried. Her Mama had given the land, carved it from the farm, for a church to be built, and a graveyard for her children and her children's children to be buried. She wanted them all together, wanted them to have a place to rest. Granny and I pulled weeds and she introduced me to the ones who died before me--her Mama and Daddy, her brothers her sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and children--people she loved and mourned.

Looking back, I realize that many of my questions were painful. But she always answered, even when I asked about Verna Sybil, her first baby, born dead, or Lettie Joy, her little girl whose picture in the coffin was kept in a bureau drawer. I often slipped it out; she was beautiful in her white dress and long dark hair, only eight or nine when she died of pneumonia and whooping cough.Others knew better than to ask but when I think back now, I wonder who else Granny spoke to about these children?  Granny was a teenager when her own Mama died, a stern, devout, loving woman. Granny planted roses on their graves, pink rambling roses from the yard, roses older than the farm, roses started from a bush at another long ago homestead.

The hilltop was covered with thrift, pink and purple and white. The graveyard was surrounded by orchards, and the mountains that rose around us were softened with the pink and white blossoms of apples, peaches, and dogwood. Even the sting of death itself was softened by the beauty of this spot.

With Granny as my conduit, I understood that people who had died were real, that their lives were equal to my life and the lives of the people around me. Nothing is more difficult to communicate. We look back across time, and it is finished, written in stone. It would seem that those people were better, wiser, stronger. They were not. They were just like us--brave, silly, nervous, insecure, optimistic, jealous, depressed. Everything we are, they were. They did not know the future. They stepped out in faith, cowered in uncertainty.

I reached through the veil to take their hands, and they whispered back, we are waiting for you. . . .

This thought comforts me greatly.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Life After Death

I moved to the cemetery after my husband tried to kill me. My friends joked that if he succeeded, I would not have far to go, but they did not laugh.

This evening, the cemetery is like a scene from the Victoria Holt novels I read in high school. It is an early autumn day; chilly winds whip the flag at the soldier's monument and yellow leaves swirl in the mist. The heavy sky obscures the city and time slows.

The house was built in 1855. The second floor is an apartment now while the main floor is the business office.The place needs work. I tell folks I live in an historic ruin. Some days it feels more historic, some days, when another chunk of plaster lets go, more ruin. I am grateful to be the person who cares for this home for a while and part of my job is to bring resources to keep this place standing.

It is important to understand that this was a home before it was a graveyard. Dr. Franklin Crane came from Easton, Pennsylvania, with four mostly grown sons. He was a widower, and a spiritualist. He became a spiritualist when his wife died. He told me so in the basement of Constitution Hall on Kansas Avenue.

My friend, Beth, was going into the ghost tour and investigation business. She invited me, as the token historian, to join her and the new crew of ghost hunters. There I was in the dark, in the dirt, with Beth's teenage daughter and pharmacist-cum-ghost hunter. I addressed Dr. Crane, told him I had written a book about his cemetery, told him I admired him. Every now and again, the little gadget with lights would blink from red to green. When told that I admired his joining the Union Army even though he was old enough not to be drafted, it lit up. But when I asked if he had become a spiritualist when his wife died, the little gadget nearly exploded. Ah.....I thought......and I asked nothing else.

I do not know if he is here; I have not seen him. Little things happen, like the dial on the air conditioner being turned every night for weeks until I had a conversation with Dr. Crane. My daughter lives with me, and she is brave, but. . . . Each night she turned the dial so that the window unit would blow toward her face. In the middle of the night, she would awaken with the air blowing a different direction. After more than a week, she was scared. I sighed, took my divining rods and went to her room.

"Dr. Crane, I need to talk to you. . . . I know you are a good man. . . .you know we are trying to take care of this place. . . . you have to help us feel safe."

Neither of us has ever felt anything menacing from whatever spirits may or may not be here. My greatest fear has been that the man I loved and gave my heart to would be standing behind the door when I opened it.