Dispatch from Sewanee, Tennessee, 16 May 2017
I left Nashville after dropping my youngest off at school, and headed south-east toward the Cumberland Plateau. Spent an hour wandering around the domain of Sewanee; then an hour writing, sitting in an Adirondack chair beneath a large evergreen in the front lawn of All Saints Chapel; then two-and-a-half or three hours hiking on the Perimeter Trail, out to and past Elliott Point, around to Audubon Lake, where I stripped down to my underwear and jumped into the lake, giddy like a school boy skinny-dipping. Delightful in every way—the day’s temperature ideal; the water cold but not uncomfortably so, just the sort of cold which reminds the body that it is alive, and grateful for it; the mountain laurel in full and glorious bloom; the sky a deep blue with wisps of high cirrus clouds; the merely half-hour long memory of vistas from the bluffs of the Cumberland Plateau filling full the palpable joy of the moment.
Then to my room at St. Mary’s Sewanee, with a big picture window, and a ceiling fan and no A/C, and yet another spectacular vista of the valley, perhaps a couple thousand feet below, and then a nap, followed by some chocolate I bought this morning before I left Nashville, followed by more wandering about the grounds, to see what books one might find waiting expectantly on the shelves, and then sitting a long while in a rocking chair on the back porch, just sitting, as the sun slowly descends toward the far western horizon beyond the valley below; and then finally to Village Tavern for a Bearwalker Brown and chicken strips and beer-battered fries, and my journal in front of me, to receive and commemorate this simple, and simply beautiful, day.
And I came here particularly to remember, and to give thanks—for mid-life growth and healing granted by God’s grace since I was last at St. Mary’s, some 30 months ago, when I was grieving and undone, and had sought that day to do God’s will as best I understood it, which so often feels like stepping off a cliff blind-folded, its sense of humbling and humiliation, but tempered with a deep and supernatural but altogether human grace which I would not forget, and cherish.
That night I left this same tavern and walked up the hill in the dark to All Saints Chapel, the doors open and yet the edifice quietly unoccupied, as if prepared for my lonely self to lament, and I splayed myself prostrate on the stone floor before the altar and sought, as best I was capable, yet only by God’s grace, to offer the sacrifice of that day, and the direction of my life to my maker.
Many gifts have come to me since that painful but beautiful day: the happiness I tasted today bearing witness that deep depression can pass, and that grief can plow the ground for fruitful new ways of living—to be honest, and direct, and grateful; and willing to suffer, and able to face conflict, and possessing a new sort of courage, which has led me to all manner of new adventures and forays into the delights of living among a community of friends who love God, and love me; and freedoms now I never imagined, last time I was here.
And I remind myself that none of this means life is easy, nor does it mean that life is arrayed in the ways my self-absorbed desires would arrange it. But herein lies the gift: to become capable of knowing the sorts of joys of this day even when life remains challenging, or simply hard, but without having to slide into depression or bitterness, and instead to the still-almost-shocking-contrary, simply to taste the simple sweets of this spectacular late spring day in Tennessee. And I feel happy, and grateful.
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