Paul Simon wrote a song with the lines, “He looks around, around. He sees angels in the architecture. Spinning in infinity” Over the years, I have understood these words in a hundred different ways and they all have some connection to grace. Here are three very different stories of angels and the intrinsic quality of grace that is present in the architecture of daily living on one day of our pilgrimage.
On our way out of Durham to Beaufort, South Carolina, we stopped for a coffee. We were looking for a Bank of America office and an ATM. The directions were confusing so while in line, Peter turned to the man behind him, asked if he might know where it was. He supplied the directions and then, after more chit chat, he said he had moved to North Carolina to be near his beloved granddaughter who in her early 20s, was now a freshman at University of North Carolina. What is remarkable about this event is that she is living with cystic fibrosis and there was a time when attending University, let alone having her alive this long, seemed behind possibility. He said that he has learned that it’s the “living” part of her condition that matters most. He said, “I don’t want to miss a single chance to catch her for lunch or Sunday dinner between her studies. That’s why I’m here.” There were angels spinning in infinity.
We headed out on our way to Hunting Island State Park in the Low Country of South Carolina. Peter had decided he wanted to try to find the place where his sister Christine had lived in the 1970s. The place is known as Selkirk Farm and had been in the Cousar family since 1850s. The story is that the Reverend James A. Cousar’s slave Case had built the original part of the still-standing Georgian style “cottage” in the 1858. The Reverend ministered at the nearby Reedy Creek Presbyterian Church, raised his family in the house, and was known to have donated land that was used to build two African-American churches. Peter had visited Selkirk Farm in the later years of the 1970s but knew little more about it. He had the name and phone number of the current owners, a cousin of the Cousar family. He called, left an introductory message and indicated we’d like to stop by. Without waiting for a response, we took off for Dillon County. We wandered along the marked, unmarked, packed dirt and paved roads of rural South Carolina, towing our trailer and looking about as obvious as a couple of Yankees could be.
We were driving down one particular road that Peter remembered, passing fields which held bales of cotton and the dry stubble of the last season’s crop when he suddenly said, “That’s it!” Sure enough, we spotted the historical marker for Selkirk Farm. We pulled off the road. I got out to take a picture of the sign while Peter walked back along the road to try to get a photo of the house, distant on the horizon down a long, straight dirt driveway. No sooner had we arrived than a black SUV came slowly down the road, stopped and asked Peter, “Can we help you with something?” which is universal code for, “What do you think you are doing taking pictures of this house on a deserted country road?” Peter had just met the owners.
After hearing Peter’s story, the very gracious couple, invited us in for a visit. It turns out that they had just sold the house to a woman from California and Selkirk Farm would be, for the first time in its history, looked after by a non-family member. We had literally arrived just at the right moment, met the owners, and fulfilled a dream that Peter had to see the place once more. Angels circling around one more.
The drive to Beaufort, South Carolina took us through the flat open lands of the Low Country, land with ribbons of marshes and rivers revealing remarkable views that stretch to the horizon. We traveled through an area called the ACE Basin, which gets its name from the three rivers – Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto – that make up one of the largest protected estuaries in the East Coast. We crossed onto St. Helena’s Island and the incredibly beautiful campground where we are staying, the first of our entire pilgrimage. The bar has been set pretty high. We are about 50 yards from a pristine 5 miles of undeveloped beach with only some dunes and Sea Oats separating us from the Atlantic. After setting up Traveler, we decided to look for some local produce for dinner. We found a produce stand called Gullah Farms, and pulled in.
A tall and handsome 60-something year old black man greeted us and we asked what he had available. “Collard greens”, was his simple answer. Peter said we’d take some. “How much do you want, enough for two?” was his question. After confirming that, the man grabbed a basket and walked across the street to the garden and picked collard greens for us, sharing the fruits of the field with us. Astonished, we paid him $2 and gently took our little bag of treasure home. The angels confirmed, beyond any doubt, that we’d never tasted collard greens like these.