Saturday, September 10, 2005

Tears in Beloved

Cousins,
I won't go into the details of my Uncle Bert's death here and now, just know a dear person I loved went home.

I stayed at his home with family for many hours after his passing before leaving to stay at a cousin's home for a few days.  I'll share more about all that later.  Now I want to tell you of the journey in between.

On Tuesday I really needed some time to recover.  It is a traumatic thing to see a loved one die.  It is a blessed thing also, but it has such an impact on me each time I have been there... and as a pastor I was there more often than most folks.  Being with my Uncle was a moment that will change me more than most, I suspect.

I made my apologies to my cousin and left for Clay County - over to Double Creek, Little Creek and Gilbert's Creek where my family has lived for over 155 years.  My Great Great Great Grandpa and his brother were surveyors and between them they owned over 40,000 acres of the hills from 1804 on.  They would go across Cumberland Gap and sell land they had surveyed and claimed to folks.  They then took them to their property and helped them homestead.  The brother was John Gilbert - a State Senator for Kentucky and pretty well known in the hills.  If you have ever been in the Daniel Boone National forest in eastern KY then most likely you have been on family land taken by the government with little or no compensation.

First I went to the hillside where my Grandparents, Stephen and Myrtle Hollen lay.  Later I traveled to the head of Double Creek and met an old man whose name was a Wagers and was a distant cousin of mine.  He led me to the place where Jimmer Gray lived - another person in my stories - from "The Devil, The Dumbbull and Jimmer Gray"  a true story I tell.  I saw where my Grandma's family settled in 1844 and then went up to the fork of Big Double Creek  to wander  for a while.

I drove past Little Creek and the home where my Daddy was born.  I saw where the old apple orchard once stood.  My Grandma and Grandpa had a son they buried in that orchard 2 days after his birth.  Grandma named him Stephen, after my Grandpa.  He would have been my Uncle.  I am the 3rd Stephen Hollen, you see.

I went way back on an old road just past the park on Double Creek.  I drove slowly, way deep into the hollers and found a meadow full of wild flowers.  I pulled in and turned off the car to just sit and think for a while.

As I sat there the air was filled with hummingbirds.  Dozens of them flew through the meadow to feast on nectar of a thousand kind of wildflowers... cone flowers, black eyed Susans, Queen Anne's lace, purple loosestrife.  Their buzz filled the air.  If you sit quiet you can hear it and will recognize it as theirs.  The flowers were azure, butter yellow, purple and blue and tiny bright yellow flowers that hurt the eye to see they were so beautiful.

Like a host of dive bombers, the hummingbirds flew through a thousand dragonflies.  I have never seen so many dragonflies in my entire life.  It was like a flying circus as they played on the winds and flew all around me in the meadow.

Then other movement caught my eye.  Quietly, gently, not as dazzling were butterflies, black, yellow, blue and white.  They flew low from flower to puddle and back again.  As they flew they danced.  They danced a dance of frantic, season-ending love.  They danced a dance that has stepped to the rhythm of the seasons for all of creation.

I listened to the crickets, the tree-frogs and dozens, no hundreds of tiny musicians as they added their harmonies to the song of the hills.  They sang and danced just for me, dear cousins.  They sang of a Balm in Gilead; of a promise of more than this life.  They sang of the hills that call to those it loves.  They sang to me.  They danced a dance of healing for me.  It was as if the Creator called them from cleft and corner, from crevice and cave, from twig and vine to give me a gift me that day. 

With tears in my eyes I said, "Thank you" for this precious gift.  I sat for hours and perhaps I dozed.  As I thought to leave I saw a movement in the far end of the meadow.  Thinking it was a deer, I paused.  It was not a deer, cousins.  I was not sure what had wandered into my meadow.

I knew that elk had been released in that area, but had never seen one till that day.  I sat and watched a cow elk pace through the tall sweet grasses and part them like a sleek ocean liner parts the waters of the sea.  It was the "Amen" to a hymn of praise for the glory of the hills of my home.

I sat within a mile or so of where my ancestors had lived, toiled and died.  Just a piece from where my Daddy was born, where Aunts and Uncles laughed and loved.  I sat just down the creek from the best years of my childhood and it was like honey out of a rock.  From that meadow a balm of healing was poured.

I wish I could take you there, dear cousins.  I would that you had been at my side so I could grab your hand and say, "looky, looky there...and there, do y'all see it?  Wait, there is more, over there, cousin, see, do you see?"

I have no doubt I was lead home, to be with Uncle Bert, to be home, to pause and be refreshed.

I have traveled a lot recently, not been home as much as I want.  I am off to Delaware on Monday again and I needed that.  I needed that.  I needed to be there for my Uncle Bert and I am honored that I was called to his side.  I am blessed that I found that meadow and the balm of peace it held.
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