Last week I went to an ordination in Hendersonville, NC and was surprised to drive right past the cemetery with the Look Homeward Angel. I’m sure that as a child I’d been to see it before but I didn’t remember it at all. So, since I was quite early for the ordination, I turned around and took a drive through the cemetery.
There she was. Very pretty indeed. She’s also called the Thomas Wolfe Angel because of her place in Wolfe’s book Look Homeward, Angel. But when I saw her, she looked to me to be far more of Milton’s poem than Wolfe’s story.
Oh how much family history is recounted in one cemetery or another! I often wonder if the rejection of cremation some have is based upon an unconscious fear of the loss of the story of ancestry. For who are we if we do not know who we come from and cannot, somehow, walk among them, learn their stories and hope to someday see them face to face? Perhaps that is a Southern thing, with our strange near-worship of long dead relatives made possible by the liturgy of history.
Perhaps. But I doubt it is only a Southern thing. I think it is a human thing.
Look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth.
And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth.
–Lycidas by John Milton
Images copywritten by me
Although I know I am biased, I must confess that I live in what I believe to be the most beautiful place on earth. At the very least, I’m certain that there is no place more beautiful. The mountains of western North Carolina are breathtaking.
As a child, I remember when we would come to the mountains to visit my grandmothers, cousins and assorted aunts and uncles, my parents would often say we were ‘going home.’ In the strictest sense, my home wasn’t here, but my ancestral home certainly was. At the first sight of the beautiful blue ridges on the horizon, my father would say: I lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence commeth my help? My help commeth from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and earth. I was certain that God was in the mountains in a way unlike anywhere else and, in my heart, I always equated the sight with True Home.
Now, many years later, I am a pastor in a small semi-rural parish about an hour west of Asheville. I never dreamed I would actually call this place home. Everywhere I look, there are mountains. Rising and falling, like great green and blue waves moving imperceptibly. Mysterious and charming veiled round in mist and, some days, even clouds. Layer upon layer of blue ridges seemingly infinite in number.
They form the background, or perhaps the very heartbeat of life in this small mountain town.
blueridge parkway july 2009