Sometimes when I least expect it a moment is pulled from the normal and sets itself apart. That happened to me last Thursday when I ran into some old friends. It was an impromptu meeting that left me overjoyed to have a few minutes of interaction with them again after many years of being caught up in our own lives and the places our lives take us. I am thankful for those minutes, for those people, and for the mutual feelings we have for one another that were quite apparent last Thursday. It was a sweet reunion of sorts for certain.
Then there are my trips to Canada, to New Brunswick. Those trips always include sweet reunions, usually several. This trip certainly didn’t disappoint.
There’s the reunion with the land itself. The hills roll up and away from the gorgeous St. John River Valley. Farmed land is visible in every direction and appears on the surface like an enormous, soft, colorful quilt. But then for every river valley there are streams and drainage’s that feed the larger body of water, and with that comes embankments and ravines, rocks, and ledges. The soft and rolling appearance cut up by nature’s needs. When traversing the land on foot it’s quickly evident that not much here is soft, flat, or easy, as it should be. It’s also a reminder of how much work goes in to ‘taming’ the land season by season just to yield a crop, or to make an area passable from one place to another. For, if given a season or two, the land will win, and again reclaim any and all spaces.
The clover smells sweet and the warm breezes entice me to sit for a while and quietly observe, for my service is not needed here. Nature has it all under control.
Of course there’s also a reunion with the wildlife as well. Within just a few hours of being north of the border I had seen numerous deer, rabbits, and bald eagles. Everywhere there are chances to see something wild from the animal kingdom. My step gets too close and a hawk in the tall grass takes flight right next to me, until then I did not know there was a hawk anywhere near me. Passing along an old fence line, a pair of bobolink’s fly up and away, revealing their unique markings. A mother duck and her ducklings scurry in formation for some cover behind the rocks along the edge of a well-hidden, but excellent fishing hole on the Little Presque Isle Stream.
Well, then there’s the church, the building itself, and the grounds around it. Behind the church I visit the markers of those loved ones who have passed on before us. I visit every time I go up to New Brunswick, at least for a few minutes. I picture the faces of those so dear, and inevitably two things happen simultaneously. One, I smile a little smile. Two, tears spill from my eyes and make their way down my face on their way to the green earth that I tread carefully upon. I look out past the markers at the valley that falls away from the western bank of the St. John River and I thank God for the time we had here on earth together.
Inside, maintenance and progress have changed the rooms and halls some over the years, but the sanctuary is still the place to come together, regardless of where it may be located within the building. In this room, I can still look out and see the markers, the valley, and the birds come and go. Each sight-line, each seating area take me to different memories in that building over the years. Some are happy. Some are more sad. Some are uplifting. Some are a personal challenge, but all are necessary. All of them real.
One memory that flowed through my mind from out of nowhere and hit me upside the head with so much power it brought a tear out to my cheek and a quiver to my lip instantaneously. The memory was of the former sanctuary (upstairs) and it involved a moment I was not ready for during a complete whirlwind of a 24 hours. In the name of brevity I will get right to the moment.
I knew where the family was to meet but I don’t remember a single step I took to get there. I was locked in a cocoon of thought, somewhat self-servingly wondering how I would be seen or how I would react to seeing. I hadn’t seen most of the folks I would see in the next several hours in many years. All of that quickly went away as I laid eyes on the only son of the man we were there to remember that late fall afternoon. Probably with both of us in some private, locked away thought process we hoped that would buffer us from the unknown or the fears that come with days like this one, we came face to face after many years. With neither of us knowing what to say and seeing the same thing in each others eyes, we skipped the words, and hugely embraced each other. We hugged as if to hold each other up and maybe just so we could tackle the reality of the day together.
Then of course, there are the sermons, the worship services, and the fellowship too. I have been brought to tears in this building nearly every time I’ve stepped foot inside. I have been challenged through the words of the old hymns. I have been challenged and encouraged to expand my own comfort zone with words offered to God in prayer. And, without question, I have taken in some inspiring, uplifting, and core shaking sermons. One such tremendous sermon on compassion was delivered in the evening service by a man I have known my whole life as my uncle. Again, the church, and me inside, a sweet reunion, for sure.
Places we pass all of the time sometimes lose their importance, or their significance, and maybe even history is lost on them and replaced simply by familiarity. But, like songs we never forget, places hold keys to much we’d rather hold on to lest we let the clutter of each day push these things further from the place they once occupied in our being. Places. A place where this happened, or that happened. A place that I saw for the first time with that special friend, sibling, or another. A place where you received the news of the new job offer or the arrival of a niece or nephew. Maybe a place where you were when you experienced a breakthrough that changed your life or the way you looked at yourself.
There’s a place along the old rail-bed that sits in plain view but it’s not as noticeable until the scent of the fir trees hits your nose. Creeping slowly past this place on the back of a four-wheeler the aroma is pleasant and then some. The place is beautifully shaded from the sky by the canopy of numerous fir trees. That’s enough really, but there is more. The lovely smell carries with it, memories and places where our senses sometimes take us. There are memories of Christmases and the trees decorated. There are thoughts of the old pine scented pillows found at this relatives house, or that one. Maybe it’s a quick thought of the best bar of soap, or your favorite candle scent when you lose your self in the flicker of the flame. Then there’s this, the fact that all of this is pleasing, beautiful, memorable, and perfect; all with no help from man at all. Yes, man-made the rail-bed, but God made the trees, and He made them so that they can plant themselves. He made them smell the way they do, and the way they capture the fancy of almost all who catch that aroma coming or going from anywhere. Ahhh, sweet reunions all.
Of course this trip would never be the same without the people. The sweet reunions of loved ones who come together as if ne’er a day had passed since the last meeting regardless of time elapsed.
There are always so many of those unmistakably loving eyes. Peering into such eyes you notice immediately a warm welcome right from the heart. There’s nothing like it and there’s nothing more comforting to know that in any place different from the one you call home, there is a genuinely warm welcome always at the ready. For the physical structure is not the draw, but the people who open the door with their hearts. Sweet indeed.
If you have read much of anything I have written in this little corner of the world, you would probably know already how I feel about these people. The people, wonderful people. I was fortunate and blessed enough to spend time with several of my cousins, several aunts and uncles, second cousins, and children alike. I can honestly say, all of the interactions are truly my pleasure. Right down to the child’s response to “How many people are in the whole world?” The answer, “64”. I love it. From, the whole world is available to me minds of the young, to the minds that know better but still look forward to what’s around the next bend, there I find myself interacting in all my pleasure. Contribute, I hope I do, hoping to come off as genuine and something more than a mindless numskull. I walk away the better man for having been in their presence, hearing their words, and gaining their perspectives.
To the generation before me, I welcome the wisdom and the lessons of experience. I laugh with you at the mistakes made and shared in the beautiful selflessness of humility (another lesson worth noting). I weep at the stories of those we lost here on earth while trying to imagine how much more they lost than I did. Remembering how hard they worked to press on and to this day are still an astonishing example of how we all should be at any age. I listen to them use words that most people have long since replaced. I listen to the conviction in their voices when they speak of right and wrong, the things of highest importance. I welcome the opportunity to speak when spoken to, and I recognize the trust they show simply in the asking of a question. These people know more than I will ever know and love more than I will ever love. Words simply cannot provide with any adequacy the way I respect, revere, and love these people and the sweet reunions we share in every meeting.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include another sweet reunion of sorts, with a promise, a covenant. It is written in Genesis 9…”12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”