A fellow Airstreamer recently posted a blog (Life on the Blue Highways) with a picture of some pottery shards that he discovered in New Mexico. These shards struck me as a metaphor for the past few days at Koreshan State Park. Like the shards, each day offered some unique new element in the whole field of our lives here.
It started on Good Friday and I showed up for my shift at the Art Hall feeling subdued, reflective, and quietly introspective. In addition to the solemnity of the day on the Christian calendar, earlier in the day I received a text from my cousin that her father, my Mom’s only surviving brother, was nearing the end of his life of 96 years and the family was gathering in Massachusetts. If God was calling him home, Good Friday seemed like an especially blessed day for this good man. My 94-year old mother was not making the trip from her home in New Hampshire to Massachusetts, and my thoughts had been with my cousins as they faced his imminent passing. My heart was heavy as I headed to the Settlement.
It’s common when relieving the morning shift volunteer to have a quick de-brief of any special events, any updates on the buildings, or any park news. My fellow volunteer told me that the park ranger had just brought in a new artifact for the display cases in the Art Hall. It was a plaster cast of Cyrus Teed’s hand (Teed was the founder of the Koreshan Unity Settlement). The practice of doing plaster casts of the recently deceased was common in those days (he died in 1908) and so with some reverence, I approached the new display wondering if I was the only person to notice the significance of having the death cast show up on Good Friday.
Since events seem to unfold in threes (and I had already experienced two), I was attentive to each subsequent guest interaction. A group of four guests (which I later cast as two teenage grandchildren with their grandparents) showed up and they were very engaged in the history. After my overview of the park, the grandson asked me about the empty glass case that had held some of the musical instruments from the Koreshan orchestra. I told him the musical instruments were being evaluated at the archives at nearby Florida Gulf Coast University. He lit up and said he was a musician and was interested in studying music and the conversation quickly ramped up to a new energy level. As a docent, I know this sensation and when it presents, I just get out of the way and let it move.
One side-step here before I proceed with the story. The day before I had been able to visit the archives and see some of the treasures from the Settlement, including the very same instruments that had just been removed from the display cases so I had a unique and fresh perspective to offer the guests. I shared the news that one of the professors at the University was working on specific projects related to the importance of music to the Koreshans. Like a sponge, this young man was just soaking up as much as he could bear, his grandmother taking notes for his future reference.
But once again, the showstopper was the 1885 Steinway piano. I hadn’t yet shared its history and as I did, he moved closer to the stage and I already knew the answer to the dual questions, “Do you play the piano” and “Would you like to see the Steinway?” would be a double affirmation As if approaching the altar in church, we solemly climbed onto the stage. The young man was completely awestruck as I opened the piano. “Sit down,” I said. “And play something”.
After some time, and I really don’t know how long, with tears welling up in both his grandmother’s and my eyes, he finished playing the piece, lifted his hands up and then off the 85 keys. Silence re-emerged. I was back in the Art Hall, having been taken to a place of ethereal grace. I don’t know what he played but I can tell you it was soft and mysterious. No one spoke for what seemed like minutes. The silence was what I most felt. No one else had entered the Art Hall while he was playing or immediately after, as if the greater angels who inhabit this place had posted a “Do Not Enter” sign on the door.
And then they left. A couple of hours later, just before I locked up for the evening, the grandfather came back to ask me a question about another one of the buildings, “I knew you would have the answer”, he said, and then, “This has been one of the most amazing of all our days”. I couldn’t have agreed more with his assessment.
Living on the road is a lot like discovering pottery shards. Each day presents a chip, or something that might be brightly colored, or really shiny, or dull, or pointed, or rounded and what we nomads do is observe carefully, and then move on. We don’t know how they fit together in the greater construction project that is our lives. We don’t know if the shard of the day is going to provide the jaw-dropping missing piece to some greater mystery, or is merely the equivalent of more blue sky in the puzzle. Our job is showing up, collecting the shards, curating them and being attentive for what comes next.
After supper Peter and I hopped into the truck and drove up to a 7:00pm Good Friday service at a nearby church. It was clearly part of a pottery shard hunt so I listened and waited. And then it came when the choir began singing. “What is it about pottery shards and music today”, I wondered? Years ago, my friend Lenny Matczynski gave me a copy of the Emerson String Quartet playing Haydn’s orchestral work, “The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross” which centers on Psalm 31:5. The work was commissioned in 1786 for a Good Friday service. I had forgotten about the whole orchestral piece until the choir began singing, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit” and as I sat in the sacred space of this consecrated place, my heart opened. I had been given another shard.
Saturday morning I learned from my attentive sister that my dear uncle had actually passed from this earthly life around 9:00pm on Good Friday. I’d like to imagine a choir of angels singing a Latin chant called the subvenite. As one of the monks at New Camaldoli Hermitage once wrote me, “the sentiments are so beautiful”.
On this Easter Sunday, I share some of the words from the chant which the same monk sang at the Hermitage when my father passed away in 2013.
Refrain: Receive his soul and present him to God the Most High.