After enormous (and mostly age-appropriate!) fun with long-time friends in Lexington, Kentucky in the middle of this past month, Steve and I took a side trip, as we began the drive home, to visit Camp Shawnee – about 2 hours east of Lexington, in Floyd County. It was here, we had recently learned, that a beautiful outdoor chapel was dedicated – on Mark’s (future) birth date, in 1955, no less – to the memory of my grandfather, John T. Parker, who we did not have the privilege of knowing (he died of leukemia when my dad was just 22).
My grandfather obtained the camp site for the boy scouts of Wheelwright, KY, where he worked and lived, but it is now owned and operated by Christian Appalachian Project. Groups of young campers come for weeks all summer, and into the fall on weekends, mostly from impoverished areas in Kentucky. Two lovely young women – volunteers – were there to greet us as we ground over the gravel and pulled in.
What a lovely, lovely setting. A tangible peace filled the air; so quiet. The camp includes a number of buildings: an office, the dining hall, several dorms, a nurses’ station; on a lower turn of the road, we’d spied a pool and other athletic areas. And then there is the chapel, tucked in the middle of it all.
We did not have a lot of time – the sun was getting low, and the mosquitoes decided Steve was quite delectable (WHY, GOD, WHY mosquitoes??? Is it just to keep us humble?). So we didn’t linger in our admiration of the camp as a whole, but walked directly to the chapel and spent time chatting there.
As we sat on the rough wooden benches facing the structure, I noticed a lot of small white buttons scattered on the ground in the evening light. We were told there is a special ceremony that takes place when the groups of campers first arrive: in a bucket of water, you “sink your fears and float your hopes.” The buttons are fears. The hopes are feathers. I liked that the buttons were there – left at the chapel’s entrance, so to speak (it’s open – without a front wall) while the feathers were not, even though a group had just left. I thought of all those hopes wafting on the wind, prayers to a God we are assured loves us, sees us, no matter what our circumstances.
So many thoughts.
We talked about how amazing that a humble, wooden, outdoor chapel – dedicated to a man who too few people now remember…a man who quietly made his mark, living a solid but too short life, back in the early part of the previous century – is still standing, still a symbol to countless groups of young children who will need particular strength and courage to rise. This chapel speaks of God’s timeless love and care, of possibility, of perseverance and dedication.
I felt wistful to not have known the man, the “original” John T. Parker (there’s my dad, and then my brother, and a JTP4 now…our nephew). I wondered whether the sudden decline in his health (he died rather swiftly) had frightened my grandfather. Had it tested his faith (did he ask WHY? or did he somehow find a way to accept, to drink the cup?), and if so, how did he work through it? Did he sink his fears and float his hopes, even as he died? I wondered whether he had time to fully grasp that he would not live to see his beautiful children grow and thrive in adulthood: my dad was finishing his final year at the Naval Academy, and that boy from a small mining town in KY would rise to the rank of Vice Admiral before retiring; his sister, my aunt Ann, a retired teacher, is the most wonderful, wry, gentle soul you could ever meet. She loves so, so deeply, and is drawn to take in a bevy of cats and dogs who surround her and her beloved husband Jack in furry joy. And wow…the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren…
(I wonder if JTP1 now knows that Mark, like Steve, turns into a competitive Mr. Potter when he plays board games….)
I sit here now, a few weeks later, and think about what we each “build” with our little lives. Sarah, in her teaching and coaching, is building confidence and ability, skill and excellence into children and young color guard enthusiasts. She is deliberate, obvious in her engagement: what she conveys to them about them will stick….probably forever. My mom is the most amazing, gracious hostess…the nucleotides in her DNA are not adenine, guanine, etc., but little teeny index cards* on which she has written every single person’s likes and dislikes so that she can cook you something you are guaranteed to love. I can think of so many other examples of the ways people touch the world in simple and yet powerful ways. This is why we need to talk to one another and say “Thank you” and “wow!” and confirm those unique gifts, the things we each offer – as one-of-a-kind individuals with different gifts and skills – in love. You never know how far, and for how long, those ripples will spread.
*She actually HAS these index cards in her kitchen, probably one with your name on it.