In both the ancient languages of Greek and Hebrew, the words for “wind” and the words for “spirit” are exactly the same. So, there is something deeply spiritual about being with a group of people who help you test where the winds are blowing. I think that, in the more recent years since my Sequoyah-time ended, my Kerrville friends have filled that same hole.
I certainly do believe that each of us have special places –actual geographic spaces– that become holy for us. Sequoyah is that kind of place for me. We always went up there in October. And it’s easy to pay attention in October up there, because the leaves are turning. Sometimes, right before your eyes, they’d turn the most stunning lavender, burnt orange, or brilliant ruby. You’d wake up one morning, and a new tree would be on fire; the stiff breezes slowly coaxing the leaves from their bourgeoisie lives on the branch, and off into the danger and excitement of a new life floating in air.
The smell. It was the smell of leaves, cedar, oak…it was the smell of crispness. We don’t really get a Fall in Dallas. Or, better said, by the time it usually comes (in and around Thanksgiving) our minds have well-accepted that the seasons are shifting. At Sequoyah, it was always early in Fall when we went, and the trees themselves taught us a lessons about time that never stops, and seasons that ever change. So, this place –that always felt like it was alive with life’s moving on and changing, in the lives of the trees, and the lives of my friends– was a place of renewal…a place where I always knew I’d could take stock and pause to breathe in slowly.
And when it was clear that my life was changing directions some years back –that I’d no longer be working with single adults fulltime– I took what I knew would be a last trip to Sequoyah for a while.
By then, some of this group had already “rotated off” the leadership team, and weren’t even coming back to the mountain any more. New folks had taken their place. The winds blew one of the founding team members, Susan, off the bourgeoisie branches and into the winds of eternity. Cancer. There’s a garden in her memory now, just outside the cabin where we always stayed. And just about everyone else was moving to different places too. As we should have been. The winds are always changing, why shouldn’t life be too?
On the last afternoon of that last day –just minutes before I would pack up my stuff to come back to Dallas, and while looking over the valley towards Fayetteville and the hills beyond– I jotted down some lyrics. They were the lyrics to the song “Sequoyah,” and it would become the last song to make it on my first CD. Larry Norman was the only other person still up on the mountain at that moment, and through some pretty major tears, I sang it to him. I thought to myself, “This the saddest song I’ve ever written…I don’t know if I can ever sing it in a show.”
Then, something happened on the way home. I drove back down the new highway that connects Fayetteville with I-40 (can’t remember the name…) and the drive was so incredibly beautiful. Stunning, really. Those same Fall colors were ablaze in every inch of those hills, all the way down that road. I had Ellis Paul on the CD player, and there was something so positive in his songs that I found myself surrounded by a surprising joy. I started thinking more about how those winds blow…but also about how they back back and forth. By the time I got home, I had sung the new song hundred times. Only it was no longer sad, really. It was a goodbye song, but it was a goodbye song that believed in hope…in the changes of life…in the winds that blow us to and fro….and in the possibility of reunion.
You can hear it here.
So…fast forward to this Spring…
Larry calls from Louisiana. He says that, it just so happens, he and Treva will be up at the mountain for the first full week of April. Judy actually lives up that way, so she will plan to come by. He calls Maryle who agrees to come up from New Mexico. Lane says he’s “in” from Austin. So, I agree to try and get up there for a day. And, despite the busy season, I managed to get up for a day and a half.
Drove up on a Wednesday afternoon, and got in just before dinner time. The drive was really quick…four and a half hours. I’m still not quite sure how I made such good time.
One of the things that always made our gatherings so great was that we would do a “check in” time with each other. We’d find some place to gather, and go around the circle and “check in,” see how each person was doing…what had happened in their life…what had changed for the better, or changed for the worse. It was during that time, as a community together, that we lifted our fingers to the wind to see what was happening in life.
What was great about it is that everyone always felt free to challenge other people. If we thought they were missing, or conveniently leaving out something, we’d tell ’em; sometimes pretty bluntly too. There was a high level of trust, and a high level of honesty. And I have to say that, to this day, I really haven’t replaced this level of sharing in my “everyday world,” and just about everyone else in the group who showed up for this reunion said that they hadn’t either.
Invariably, you learned something about how the winds are always shifting. Because each time we gathered, someone’s life had gone from bad to great, and someone else’s had gone from great to bad. And three or four other’s lives would be about the same.
But this learning was one of the powerful lessons (for me) in those gatherings: that life’s “always rearranging where we’re led.”
There was a comfort in knowing that, if your’s was the life that currently sucked, someone else’s experience might assure you that change was right around the corner. And, if your’s was the life really going well, hearing other people’s stories of pain and dreams deferred would remind you not to get too cocky or complacent.
So, we gathered up there two weeks ago….at least five of us from that old group did.
Here we are that first night, in the middle of our first “checking in” with each other.
From left: Me, Treva, Larry, Meryle, Lane, Judy
It was interesting. I won’t go into the specifics of what we shared. That’s too personal. But it did seemed as if almost everyone’s life was in a pretty good place right now. Lot’s had happened to all of us. Sufficed to say, we had our usual blunt, honest sharing time with each other. Four of us stayed up late by the camp fire that night. I played guitar and we all talked. We talked about how we had changed and what was different about how we now see the world. Almost everyone agreed that the world seems more confusing than it used to.
I won’t speak for the others, but I offered that I am definitely more cynical, and less naive, than I used to be. I don’t particularly think that’s a bad thing. I’ve been a pretty rose-colored-guy for most of my life. Probably still am at heart. But I can definitely tell I’m more cynical now…more prone to distrust what I hear in the media, from the govenment, from strangers, even from friends….more prone to believe that there ARE folks out there who are genuinely out to cause you or others harm….more prone to not just dismiss such things as random or abnormal. I’m sure some of this is post-911 feeling. But a lot of it comes from knowing not only what others are capable of, but what my own government, and country, are capable of too. (Can you say, “Abu Grhaib?”) But I’m also talking about every-day folks. I’ve finally grown up enough to realize that there are real con-men (and women) out there…folks who have no intention of treating you well or kindly, and who would steal your shirt if you give them the chance.
Again, I don’t find much of this to be a bad development, really. I think I’m still basically a dreamer at heart. I still insist that, in our heart of hearts, each of us has a good core. It may get covered up with the pain that we and others cause, but it’s always still there. And there can always be redemption. So, I still have these core beliefs within me, but with a little more world-wounded heart than I used to have. That’s all.
The week was a scheduled “work week” at Sequoyah, which meant that anyone could stay for free and eat for cheap, so long as they helped fix the place up. So, we spent the day Thursday painting at “Bishop’s Cottage.”
It rained most of that day, which put a damper on our outdoor plans. In between the scattered showers, we ran into town and bought a birdbath to put in Susan’s garden. In the late afternoon, Lane and I got away for a hike down the nature trails. (Since our time on the mountain, the city of Fayetteville has bought the land on the East side, and it’s now a series of beautifully wooded nature trails. Down in the middle of it, you’d never know you were still right in the outskirts of the city itself….)
The next morning, we got up and it was pretty much time to go.
It was interesting to meet the current directors of Mount Sequoyah. They have big plans for the place….a major rennovation and capital campaign. They talked to me about rewriting some of the lyrics to my song, so that it could be used in promotional materials. (Stay tuned for that…)
On the way out of town, we stopped by an amazing chapel called St. Catherine’s that Larry found somehow.
This chapel looks like an old English country chapel. But, in fact, it was just recently finished in the late 1990s, by the folks who own the land. You can read the story of this incredible little place here. What a surprise! That right in the midst of Fayetteville, just outside the city, was the pastoral place, that takes you back hundreds of years. When we walked in, we found the chapel had a small spiral staircase that reminded everyone of the chapel in Santa Fe. Turns out, that’s where the builder got his inspiration. He built this entire chapel by hand, and without using a single architectural drawing. Pretty amazing.
Anyway, this is where we said our “goodbyes” again. Lane and I drove back together as far as Dallas, then he continued on to Austin. Larry took Meryle to the airport later that morning. Treva snaked down the highways and back to Missouri. Judy’s life continued moving forward there in Northeastern Arkansas.
Life’s moved on enough, and is busy enough, that every-year reunions are probably not going to work. At least not for me. There are too many other demands on the time away from home. But, every couple or three years? That might be doable.
During our last breakfast, I was asked to lead the devotional for the everyone still on mountain (there were probably 100 folks up there still working that Friday). I told them all the story of our little group, much like I’ve just done for you here. Then, I played the song. And with some of the folks who inspired these very lines listening in, I sang:
“And if we never meet again, we wonder how we’ll cope
So trust reunion’s not in vain, and in this trust keep hope.”
How strange that life has, yet again, come back around again and allowed me to sing this song to some of the very folks who inspired it.
And now, having met up with them again, and with the assurance that we’ll meet down life’s road once more, I’m thinking of other words:
“In the valley down below,
On these mornings cool and cold,
There’s a cloud that circles round this mountainside.
And there’s a cloud inside God’s soul,
Where we come and where we go,
And where the ones we hope to see again reside.”
Until we meet again, we’ll all be there in that great cloud of witnesses.