Wednesday, May 30, 2012

 Trail of Tears...And Uncertainty

The older I get, the more I love home. 

I have been away for two weeks, attending the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in Asheville, NC. I stopped on the way home and visited friends who opened doors to their mountain homes, offering rest and respite and transition from four days of attending classes, listening to speakers, and thinking more than I normally think. It is home, though, where I reconnect, renew, and refresh my mind. As I water the plants and fill the bird feeder, everything somehow gets sorted and prioritized in my mind.  It is home where I reflect and sort and plan for another year of writing.
            This was my third year to attend, and I felt more comfortable when the routine question was asked, “What do you write?” I experimented with safe answers such as “I write non-fiction—the daily life kind of stuff—gardening, relationships, personal struggle." Or “I write memoir." That sounded vague enough without delving into my personal, painful story. Or, if I was feeling transparent, I said, “I write about death and grief—life and living.” This year, I mastered the "elevator pitch" by succinctly saying, "I published When God Comes Near in 2010, writing about my faith journey during the illness and death of my daughter. Now, I am writing a book about grief—good grief." I admit, it's not as exciting as a thriller mystery, or a trendy cookbook, but I write what I know.
            The drive to Asheville is pretty spectacular.  Once you get out of Atlanta, you head north to the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  Then as you wind further north, you enter a cloud of misty green. I returned home through those magnificent mountains with misty thoughts of my own mountains to climb as a writer. I remembered the Cherokee nation, forced against their will to leave a land they loved and to traverse through famine and hardship to some unknown territory that would become their new home over time. The journey itself became known as "The Trail of Tears" or, as a direct translation from Cherokee, "The Trail Where They Cried.” In one of the saddest episodes of our country’s history where over 4000 people died, lives were torn apart, displaced, and left to their tears on a trail to uncertainty.

            There is a legend that says an Indian chief prayed for comfort for the grieving mothers who were losing their children to death and starvation on the trail.  Following his prayer, a white rose began to spring up every time a tear fell to the earth.   
Supposedly, to this day, the Cherokee Rose, my very own Georgia state flower, still blooms along the Trail of Tears—life and beauty rising out of pain and sorrow. 

            I am learning that each of us has our own trail of tears—our own trail of uncertainty. If you tell me you do not, I won't believe you.  All who are in touch with life have been displaced by something—emotionally, physically, socially, or spiritually.  We have been forced to travel a trail of uncertainty. And the legend rings true—when tears are spilled and prayers are offered, something good happens in the midst of sorrow. A flower blooms on the road of sadness.

            "How can good come from pain?" we continue to ask. One thing I learned at the writer's conference was that everyone has a unique story to tell.  Some are true and some are imagined. Some are being developed. Some are being filed away and some, regrettably, thrown away. But all good stories should offer some kind of reconciliation to the reader. Name the problem and offer a solution. Change the reader.

            The Cherokee tribe did not get to the Oklahoma territory overnight. There was no GPS dotted with five star hotels and Starbucks, but there was a chief who sought a higher source for help. And following the little signs of life that bloomed encouragement along the way, the travelers stuck with their journey and learned new ways to live. They told their stories to their children with memories of a past life and with hope for the new territory to come.  As a writer, I will be doing just that—seeking help from above, looking for the signs of encouragement along the way, and learning new ways to live. I will remember the past and point to the future. Maybe I, too, will change the reader.