• The Rock

  • I left the car at the edge of the graveled semicircle and passed through the wrought iron gate. Dividing the rows of graves was a grassy lane, wide enough for a car but showing no tracks. At the end of the lane there was another hundred yards of lawn to the back fence, available for future burials.

    I turned and looked back across the road at the church, a white clapboard two-story structure flanked by outbuildings in the same style.  The original church was probably well over two hundred years old, judging by the dates on some of the headstones, most with Scots-Irish names. The church building and grounds across the road were as well-maintained and manicured as a theme park, contrasting with the cemetery. It was bare of trees, just a few bushes placed haphazardly. The grass needed fertilizer and watering, and there were a few corners where the mowing machine left wild patches.

     I imagined the inside of the church as the same place I last saw thirty-three years ago – austere, with hardwood pews and floors, and a plain altar in front with a large wooden cross on the wall above. The interior was well-lit by tall windows lining the sides, their clear panes of wavy, old-fashioned glass distorting the trees outside. I remembered it was drafty in winter. Old-school Presbyterians.  I wondered when this history would vanish under the wave of nondenominational megachurches, with all their sound-stage entertainment as worship, sports facilities and mindless evangelism.

    I walked across the grassy area and through the metal gate at the back. Last time there had been no wrought-iron fence at the back of the property, just a dry stone wall fifteen yards beyond where the back fence stood now the fence. The wall was still there. Curious arrangement, this; I wondered where the property line was.

    Clambering over the wall was more difficult this time. My strength and balance were tested by the uneven rock wall, which was more of a loose pile than an orderly stack. I found places for a handhold on a few saplings that had sprung up in and around the wall; without them I probably would have fallen. Once over the wall I found the terrain much steeper than I remembered, and I needed to brace myself on the trees even more. I had not seen a soul since parking my car.

    At the bottom of the ravine, the stream had cut a deep, ugly gash in the red earth as it had swollen with storm runoff over the years. Now it had lost its former flow and ran in a trickle between the deep, greasy-looking banks. No doubt these changes were due to the new rows of mini mansions up the hill on the other side. Crossing this chasm was difficult. I ranged twenty yards to my right upstream until I found a wider, flatter streambed with some rocks where I could step across.

    I worked my way up and back to the left, sideways up the steep ravine to level ground. Then I continued where I could follow back along the stream toward my objective. The boulders, of course, were still where I had last seen them, outcropping from the highest rise above the stream. The one I was looking for was a large dome coming out of the ground, nestled below a rock so jagged that no one could sit on even if they scaled it. So I sat on my dome, just as I had over three decades ago. From this vantage point the other protruding rocks below me obscured the stream. Straight ahead I could see the cemetery and the church through the trees.

    The ground rumbled as it does when a train approaches. When the rumbling stopped, the ground was vibrating, almost imperceptibly.

     This was not a voice in my head, it was external to me, but it made no sound. It simply was.

    I remembered my mother telling me once, when she was alone in a garden, she heard a voice. It told her, You are loved. Everything is as it should be.

    This non-voice was interested in something else.

    You’re still a drunk.

    Well, that’s putting it pretty strongly.

    You know it’s not necessary. Let go and let God, as they say.

    Is that who you are?

    The cloud of care around me became millions of tiny gold-looking particles, slowly settling to the ground.

    After a while, I stood, stretching my stiffened muscles.

    Good you came. Don’t be a stranger.