Perhaps “lost” wasn’t the right word. More than anything, she felt hopeless. On a whim based on a recurring dream, Meadow had taken time off from work, borrowed her boss’s truck, driven back into her childhood, and ended up in a place that seemed to have no open doors.
Lying in her bed and waiting for the sun’s morning rays to warm her, she thought of just how much her life had followed this pattern. She had wanted to go back to college and take business courses, but didn’t have the money. Two failed romantic relationships had done little to build her confidence. She had buried her talent. And now she had returned back home in an effort to uncover some secret from her past only to feel like a failure once more.
She was hardly too old, or beyond the time when she could re-connect and reconcile her present with her past. But yesterday, with Mr. Koay, she had been caught like a deer in the headlights – frozen, and incapable of moving on with her life. And all because of a car crash almost two decades ago. For a grown woman, Meadow felt so vulnerable, not knowing what to do next.
Being Sunday morning, she eventually decided to go to church – something she hadn’t done in years. The decision to go wasn’t based on some spiritual quest, she knew, but a desire to revisit the place where she had been so happy as a child with her family.
Instead of breakfasting at the Inn, she got in the truck, stopped at a local drive-through to get a coffee to go, and started heading out toward the West, Highway 220 northward to Hot Spring, Virginia – a mere 20 miles away.
She remembered the name well: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. The family had chosen to drive the distance most Sundays because Dad, due to his work, didn’t want to frequent a house of worship too close to where they lived. Meadow never quite understood why, but suspected that he wished to enjoy something of a professional distance from those with whom he might have to make an unpopular decision on heritage classification or funding for historic renovations.
It took a bit of searching after all the years, but at last she found the road, eventually seeing the church from a distance. Its red brick walls, grey slate roof and white-bordered stained-glass windows rustled up vague memories from the past. She found it humorous how children rarely notice such details, and remember events far easier than anything else.
Meadow had dressed with the best clothes she had packed but got the time wrong, arriving a half-hour following the start of the religious service. She thought better of just driving away, entered a side rear door and settled herself in one of the last pews.
Not much had changed since her earlier recollections. Both of her parents had been those kinds of Christians who were publicly restrained in their faith. They both had believed that a church’s emphasis should be on helping others as opposed to enforcing beliefs on anyone who would listen. From the distant past, she remembered how her Dad had particularly taken to this church because it wasn’t extreme in any way and it did a lot of work to assist the community, as well as humanitarian projects overseas.
By the time she had settled, the minister was on his way up to the pulpit for the lesson of the day. He was a tall, gangly man, with hair greying at the temples and an appealing baritone voice. His subject was from a verse in Proverbs that alluded to everything that happens “under the sun.”
“Our lives are forever reminding us that we live on two different levels. The writer of Proverbs spoke a lot about money, family, business, sex, the weather, and the frequently flawed nature of humanity. These were the things he meant when referring to vanity and things under the sun. But he also spoke of wisdom, faith, righteousness, truth, God, humility, the heavens, prudence, virtue and, yes, love.
“We must of our own volition come to terms with those ‘under the sun’ realities – a time to live and die, to sow and reap, to embrace and remain distant, for peace and war, times of laughter and weeping, of building and tearing down, of killing and healing. These are what most of us are bearing this late-spring day. They lift us up and bring us down. They give hope, which is then followed by the sense of hopelessness. There is a ‘time and purpose under heaven’ for these things and all of humanity must face such realities, for we, too, live ‘under the sun’ and endure.
“But if we wish to grow, to expand in spirit, to love, to forgive, to know God, to seek righteousness and faithfulness, to believe in such things as honour, truth and spiritual power, then we must seek those things of spirit that aren’t under the sun but in our hearts – those things that transcend the worries and joys of life.”
Meadow listened as he went on to describe how every individual is actually two people – those under the sun and those under the spirit – and that the great teachings and teachers of history constantly reminded humanity of that fact. Some things you couldn’t do anything about, like floods, or death, even relationships. Those things that help us overcome our hurts, however, are things in which we play an important part – to forgive someone else, even ourselves, to learn humility, to seek truth even when it isn’t easy, and to look for God in the unlikeliest of places.
She liked the implication of two people residing in one body, simply because that described her for the better part of the last two decades. Constantly torn between hope and hopelessness, fleeting moments of joy versus years of sadness, between sweet memories of her parents and the grinding grief that remained with her – these things were Meadow and she couldn’t ever reconcile them.
The minister was wrapping up and his final story came out of the blue for Meadow, since it was about a painter.
“We all know of the American artist James Whistler, who died right after the turn of the 20th century. The work we remember most is Whistler’s Mother, but he painted many beautiful canvasses besides.
“One day in his later life, after all that fame had come to him, a wealthy married couple approached him, saying they had just purchased one of his pieces but that they would like him to visit their home and determine where the best place would be to hang the work. He joined them for supper and then followed their guided tour around their lavish residence. Thoughtful, he asked to be left alone while he toured himself once more.
“Eventually, he arrived in the front hall and asked for his coat. The couple, curious as to his suggestions, asked where his great work should be placed. His answer came in the form of four words – ‘Build a bigger room’ – and he was gone.
“Often this is what we need to do with our lives. We are more than we think we are and capable of important and mighty things. But we’ve furnished our lives in convenient compartments that are too small for our spirit. We have permitted those things that are ‘under the sun’ to rob us of our potential. We are two people, not just one, and that struggle will continue until our dying day.”
The congregation was deathly silent, leaving Meadow to appreciate how much the minister must mean to his people. But at the moment, they didn’t really matter. The words had spoken directly to her and she knew just what they had implied: she had been under the sun too long. The cares of her existence – money pressures, failed relationships, being alone in her apartment, little inspiration, and the perceived lack of any different kind of future – had successfully kept her rooted in her spot. Those transcendent qualities the minister spoke of had never been pursued by her for years. And the doorway to those attributes, she knew, were best pursued through painting – her bygone passion. In leaving the brushes, the easels, and even her instructor behind, she had left her life that had so transcended routine living.
Meadow left, just as the service was ending, through the door in which she had entered. Before anyone could notice her, she climbed into the truck, slipping away quietly into the late-morning.
Absently, she spent the next two hours driving through the valley, eventually arriving at the spot she had been in two days previous where, in a grand view of a colour-laden mountain range, she had felt that rumble in her soul that created a brief flash of light – of hope – that then retreated into blackness.
She loosened the top button of the silk blouse which she had chosen for the church service but was hardly practical in her current setting. She got out of the truck, and sat once more on the front bumper. The expansive valley was bathed in sunshine, the air warmer than it had been on her last visit. Meadow spotted the churches, bridges and houses she had seen before, only this time she was more attuned to the streams and birds. The air was pregnant with Nature – its essence, its sounds and smells.
Whatever she expected, she knew she couldn’t produce it. As with a canvas, certain pieces had to come together of their own accord. She considered her childhood – its warmth, acceptance, adventure, love, and absence of fretting about the future. The stage following those early days had, indeed, been insignificant – more of an endurance than an inspiration. The long list of money troubles, broken hearts, struggles to find work, and attempts to put the past out of her troubled mind continued to play out in her thoughts. It was as if she was trapped in a present that was having its strings pulled by the past.
She was surprised some time later to learn that she had been looking out over the same expanse for a little over an hour. Meadow was ashamed to realize she had spent the entire time thinking over all those troubles. It was as though escaping the past’s clutches was impossible.
She pushed herself up off the bumper, and with one last look at the land of her childhood, got behind the wheel and headed for Clifton Forge to check out of the Inn and get back to a life that was always destined to be the same. The glimpse of her soul she had hoped would once more materialize never did. All that she had was what she had at present, and that was about as bleak an outlook as she could expect.