Park and Walk

sunset on high bridge 3-27-16

Sunset on High Bridge, captured by Marley

There was the time where we stumped the map lady. Really. We were zipping along, following her directions, trying to be patient when she loudly interjected herself into our conversation (“Turn LEFT onto BROAD STREET in ONE CORDER MILE!”) (Have you ever noticed the map lady has trouble saying “Quarter?”) and then out of the clear blue, she informed us: “Park vehicle and walk to your destination.”

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“You have arrived!”



Beg pardon, map lady? Park and walk? We are in the middle of the Lower Alabama countryside without any kind of landmark or visible destination and you just abandon us here?

To reinforce her point, while we kept driving, she turned herself into a stubborn little blue stripe that refused to move. Anywhere. We were moving, and she was pouting. I mean really.

And THEN map lady turned herself into a STICK FIGURE! I kid you not! She took herself out of her little invisible parked vehicle and turned herself into what she must have intended to be a walking stick figure! She wasn’t speaking to us, but it was okay…by then we were laughing so hard we wouldn’t have heard her anyway. Note to self: map lady/stick lady does not respond to hoots of laughter and demands for more directions.

While we were still driving, a little more slowly because #ABANDONMENT, Jenessa spotted a sign. We headed toward it. And found this:

Charles Phillips - 6

But the destination that map lady stubbornly refused to get us to? So, so, so worth it.

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Waiting to be discovered…

Five buildings of architectural salvage. Big buildings. Barns full of old doors, and shutters, and ironwork, and furniture, and hardware, and all kinds of treasures from all over the world.

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No one hovering as we wandered from one building to the next, marveling like moonstruck extras from “American Pickers.” (I know. They don’t use extras on there. But still.) The best part, apart from the amazing selection? They don’t bother you.

They let you wander around forming half-words, hauling out a tape measure, squinting at various pieces jammed cozily against each other, tapping thoughtfully on drawer fronts and table tops, exploring dovetails and cubby holes and wear patterns and ingenious solutions to needs of years and cultures gone by.

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I discovered a large stack of sturdy grain bags with a beautiful purple stripe down the center – how perfect is that for fall! – and resisted the urge to buy them all. Barely. Mostly because I was reminded by a more practical family member that we don’t have grain in that kind of quantity, and they don’t all need a new home with us. Ditto on the dough bowls, cast iron bathtubs, shutters, and doors made from 1870s French lumber. I know. France, even! The thing is, old captures me in a way new never will, because, as my beloved best girlfriend says, “New doesn’t have a story.”

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Fairy tale inspiration

Everything at this place had a story. You could hear the murmurs of conversations before you ever entered a building. The whole property fairly thrummed with it.

We’d probably still be there, except some of us got hot and some got hungry and some encountered banana spiders and got discouraged and then we ended up turning the map lady off completely because we found our own way out and made tracks to a gas station where we could not, to save our lives, find one single healthy piece of food. There was no fruit, no salad, no fresh made deli sandwiches. It was a shrine to all things processed and preserved, and we were lucky to escape with cheese puffs, corn chips, a single bag of Bugles (“Corn! There’s corn in them!”), a couple king size candy bars (“They’re healthy! They have peanuts!”) and some cans of soda that I didn’t even know was made any more. (“It’s not like it goes bad, Mom.”) The girl at the counter just grinned hugely when we assured her it wasn’t dinner. “I know,” she nodded. “This here’s SNACKS.”

Will we go back? You know we will. Map lady can find her own way. We’ll stick to our own off-the-beaten-path.


The Touchstone of Courage

Asking for courage is like asking for faith, or patience – you don’t get a magical infusion of the thing. You get opportunities to develop it.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”  ~ Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I think maybe, just maybe, courage is determination wrapped up in persistence. Courage is not knowing the outcome, or knowing the odds are not in your favor, and trying anyway. It’s facing an unknown, unsettling, hard, scary, sometimes even dreadful thing. Taking its measure. Refusing to be defined by it. Formulating a plan. Stepping out. Seeing progress, which feeds more progress. Getting that sense of having turned a corner, and feeling the euphoric rush of certainty that you will see it through.

Courage is a touchstone.

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” ~ C.S. Lewis

What is a touchstone? It’s a test for determining quality, authenticity, or genuineness. Why does this matter? It means this: the source of our greatest fear can become the touchstone for our greatest courage.

A tangible reminder of my days with Cheryl.

A tangible reminder of my days with Cheryl.

I have a touchstone. It is a heart-shaped stone, polished and etched with a single word: STRENGTH. I carried it with me a few years ago when I traveled to Tallahassee on weekends to spend time with my beloved cousin Cheryl when her breast cancer, five years in remission, spread to her bones. It was a journey she did not want to take, because in going toward her future, she had to step away from the people and the life she loved wholeheartedly. Choosing to do that, to accompany her in that intimate way, as her physical health failed and her faith shuddered and groaned, was at once the hardest and easiest choice ever. How do I do this? Better to ask, how do I not? She taught us so much in her suffering: how to be graceful, eloquent, and concerned with the well-being of others, always. How to let herself be loved and reassured and cherished. And how to love and reassure and cherish those of us who gathered around to accompany her on that private, noble journey. It was a time of continually giving and receiving permission to let go and accept the reality of what was happening not just in Cheryl, but through her in us. It was an exquisitely sweet time, one in which our world became very small as we sat with her, and held her, and cried with her, and reminisced and laughed and knitted our very souls together in one comforting blanket of love and memories. The stone still represents the strength she both gave and received.

“It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” ~ Alan Cohen

What are we most afraid of? I believe it is precisely that place that will be the source of our courage. And encouragement? To me, it’s sharing our courage with others who need it. Stepping into their journey with them. Sitting with them in their storm. See, when we ENCOURAGE someone, we are actually infusing them with courage they can’t generate within themselves. They are on the inside of the storm looking out and feeling overwhelmed. We are on the outside of the storm looking in, and we see its limits. We are seeing beyond their storm. What a gift.

For more on the subject of courage, and encouragement, please visit: