Not far from East Texas, even less distance from the Arkansas border, my first birthday happened in a little town, a little home, a little hospital. Quite a shindig, that first birthday. Late night, or early morning, it was dark out. A doctor, some nurses, Mom was there, Dad was in the waiting room. On the outskirts of that little town, logging trucks growled up and down a four-lane Louisiana State highway, east and west, in front of our rural, heavily wooded, place. Our little town’s “downtown” lay three miles west. What was east of us, down that road … I knew nothing about. I asked my dad, once.
“The only people I know who go down that way are these logging trucks you see going back and forth. It’s not a place where you want to go. In fact, I do not want you to go down there … at all.”
I never asked again. This was the “small town” South. Everyone knew your business, to a point; the same “small-town” South where secrets were part of the fabric, an old fabric, passed down through many generations, secrets that would never die. Since my pre-adolescent years, curiosity about the land east of us would not fade, like the secrets. While researching one of my favorite topics, “Fire Towers” / “Watch Towers”, I experienced an unexpected dose of irony, a powerful metaphor. I found out about a fire tower near the little town where I grew up, just east of our home, down that elusive highway, leading into an elusive place. A topographical map showed the symbol for a fire tower there, surrounded by forest, like other fire towers; yet, no picture. It bothered me that I couldn’t find a picture of the fire tower in my little town. I imagined a fire tower, in the midst of a dense wilderness, with a nameless, faceless, man looking out for miles in all directions. And yet, I could not see this fire tower hidden from me. It bothered me that I have not been able to find other pictures of the place where I grew up: the store (the only store in town that sold clothes, and a number of other categories of goods); the drug store; the barber shop; the original library; the cotton gin, the Legion Hall, the grocery store. Instead I found articles of sad things that have happened, and continue to happen. I still refuse to give up my town, but … I must do exactly that. It is no longer there. Yes, it is on the map. It goes by the same name. But it is not the same place. My little home town has died. Some places, you just can’t get to. Some mysteries remain mysteries. Some stories are not meant to be finished. We have our own stories, each playing an intricate role in our larger story, and we are called to live out that story, not the stories of others. We have our grieving that shows up in different ways: the loss of a friend, or a family member; the loss or “home”; the loss of community that we once had with certain, special, individuals. And with this reality, another, more powerful reality stands strong in the present: we transcend that pain, our pain, our loss. We have vision, passion, creativity for beauty and meaning that must overwhelm that past. There is joy in the present; there is joy in tomorrow; there is joy in the future. I am immensely thankful for that.