In Scottsdale, AZ , Houston, TX and now San Antonio, TX we have lived the past seven years in areas that are brand new. I have become so accustomed to buried wires, strip malls fashioned like a town center, wide roads, and chain store shopping. Moving here I knew I needed to locate the Target, Barnes & Noble, HEB grocery, Costco, Walgreens, Homegoods, Anthropologie, Gap, Jamba Juice and Starbuck’s. It was a matter of merely tacking pins on a map to find them all during the first scouting trip and then I knew where I had to go for all of our regular needs. When I thought about it I was a little bit sad that shopping has become so regulated that I don’t feel like I’m in a different place when I step into these shops that are exactly the same all over the country. Really? Is this what we want?
Craig’s brother, Dave, pastors a small church in Sparta, New Jersey and they meet in the common room of the ambulance house in town. It’s a friendly, casual service and though everyone is welcome to move around and make a little noise, Kira was making a bit too much so we slipped out the back door where I had her stroller parked knowing at some point she’d be too noisy for a one room church service. I have a personal standard, no matter how many times Dave assures me it’s ok, that I must be reverent to God’s desire to touch hearts through Dave’s speaking, and I refuse to have a child of mine distract a person from hearing from God.
So we walked toward the main road and I figured I had an hour to stroll before church would let out. I was in a peaceful state of mind because I had just cleared it with songs of worship, and my heart was tender to God’s presence. I can enjoy Him sitting in church, at home on the porch or strolling in small town America. It’s a wonderful condition where I’m not thinking much about issues in life, just enjoying the moment and sharing it with God, mostly giving praise for His creativity and thanks for the blessings He pours so abundantly into my life.
The fields behind the Ambulance house were in view from the meeting room and Craig leaned over to me at one point and said, “that’s where I played all my football games when I was a kid.” I loved that. As I followed the path to the street I thought about little Craig out there fighting to win and what a nice childhood that must have been in this small town. I turned right at the sign, “Home of Sparta’s little league football”. I followed the sidewalk up the hill to Main Street, past Seminary Lane and the Gentle Dentistry. I had enough sense of the town to know without knowing how to find Lake Mohawk and it was confirmed when I came to the Old Time Candy store. How I wished it were open so I could stroll the aisles with Kira. I enjoyed the store front with antique candy jars and wooden counters over glass where generations of children have pressed their hands against it wishing their parents would let them have more than one choice.
People were strolling by and greeting Walter who sat on a bench in front of the dog grooming shop with his cane, tweed cap, Sunday polished shiny shoes and a deeply wrinkled smile on his face as he made small talk with the locals. I wanted to sit next to him and know his life story and ask what brought him to this bench on a Sunday morning. But I passed by and continued on by ice cream shops, a pasteria, a creperie, a home town deli, and crossed the road to the boardwalk. There were families on the boardwalk eating brunch in the cool air with a view of Lake Mohawk. Hundreds of benches stretched along the boardwalk edge to sit and watch the water sports on the lake. We walked on passed the country club where the party was the night before, over a bridge where water rushed from the lake and streamed out towards town noisily over rocks and under another bridge. The boardwalk ended at a playground where children and parents seemed to be as much in the moment as I was. There were families biking, older couples strolling, dogs on leashes and people in the shops working to get the place open for business.
I kept thinking this must be the perfect place to grow up! I shuffled through yellowed leaves on the side walk and I turned my gaze up to the tops of the maple trees where they were turning color, a sign that Autumn is coming, which also means a long cold winter follows closely behind. I changed my mind and decided it is the perfect place to spend summer and fall, because I recalled freezing winters that never end and breed a type of cabin fever that makes this girl lose all of her mind and most of her cool.
I peeked into the service through the glass door and David was still at the microphone while my Kira chatted in her stroller refusing the nap I invited, so I crossed the road towards the cemetery. It was a strange decision for me to make because I don’t recall ever taking a walk in a cemetery. I personally have never buried someone close to me so I hardly have any memory of being in a cemetery, other than those I visited in Europe on some tour. I passed a maple tree with a trunk as wide as a football huddle, and I could be convinced the canopy spanned the length and width of a football field. The very top was turning gold and I longed to be in Connecticut during the autumn months and see friends I missed there. I began to follow the path up a hill. I couldn’t help but want to read the engravings on the stones, I felt a little nosey. I wondered how long did they live, and who they wanted to be buried next to forever. I sought interesting epitaths, but there were very few. I like the one that said, “an ordinary man lived an extraordinary life”. I think I would like that to be written about me too. The one that caught my eye had the healthiest garden planted in front of it. Someone has been tending it nicely, which means someone visits the grave regularly. I looked at the stone and learned a husband was lost seven years ago, and the stone said “eternal love, together forever” and two etched hearts were entwined. There was no second date after her name. She’s missing him. I could feel their love in the beauty of the vincas and mounding alyssum. It wasn’t sad for me; I just felt a certain peace knowing this life doesn’t last forever. Loving others well is what I want to be remembered for, so if I go first, you can write about the way I loved on the stone. If I’m last, I’ll probably grow flowers as a symbol of the everlasting love that flows from the Father through me to reach so many, each day for as many as I’m allowed to have. I walked back to church and I thought about how much I have to look forward to in heaven for eternity with Jesus. And there was nothing sad in me after visiting a cemetery, no clenching fear of dying, but instead I was reminded of the hope I have in eternity with God, and the understanding I can’t even imagine how wonderful it will be. It’s the big surprise and unsolved mystery. I felt like the kid with my faced pressed against the glass peering at all the candy and wanting to taste heaven.