The breeze drifted through the garden, the wide circle of camping chairs around the fire pit moonlike and inviting.
I knew almost no one at the party, but I didn’t mind. Friendly white teeth drove past my eyes all around the circle like pearly double decker buses.
The old man on my right side leaned in close beside me, his salt and pepper mustache covering his mouth but curling up in a way that had to be a grin. He used to drive across the country to come to these annual parties. He never used to hesitate to step into his car for a good adventure.
Now he had to fly. Now he didn’t like to drive at night.
He was thankful for his new hearing aid and he showed it to me proudly, saying he could hear every word I said. For the first time in years he’d heard a car blinker that week.
We were silent together for a few minutes as we watched the people talk and laugh around the large circle, and I was happy knowing he could hear them. He’d had a hard life. Worked hard his whole life. Raised himself on whiskey and cigarettes, turned every sad story into a joke and complimented every girl.
I liked him immediately.
“When my time comes, I’ll go to Grayson, East Kentucky.”
“What’s in Grayson?” I asked.
“The most beautiful cemetery you’ve ever seen,” he replied, still smiling in the dim, ghostly sunlight.
“A long time ago, I thought I wanted to be cremated. Told my son to mix me in with the horse manure because I’ve always been so full of it.”
He slapped my leg and laughed out loud.
“I told him he could spread me out on the pastureland that way.” He wiped his laughing eyes and looked out at the picnic. “But then I saw that Kentucky cemetery. At the foot of the green hills, big trees surrounding it. It was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. I could see my son coming to water my grave with a beer now and again. I knew I had to rest in Grayson.”
We watched the fire together for a few more moments.
“So where do you find rest? Where’s your Grayson?”
I thought about his question again this morning, 8 months later.
When I was young, I imagined that one day I would live on a farm with a huge apple orchard. My 10 year old self used to envision myself older, a long braid thrown over one shoulder and a worn flannel shirt on my back as I went outside in the morning sunlight to tend to my trees. I’d have a solid man who loved me, a dog or two and a big family.
This morning I stood on our acreage in a blue cotton nightgown and rain boots with my sleepy dog as the sun made its way higher and higher. A light turned on in the upstairs window next door, and I wondered which one of my 6 family member neighbors were awake. I looked out and spotted the dewy fog lingering around the treeline, and my hand slid down to rest on my growing bump. I glimpsed the plum, cherry, peach and apple trees growing in our yard and our husky leaned her furry head back and grinned at me. My mind automatically jumped back to my 10 year old wish and I thought, “Whoa. This was my dream.” Just give me the dang flannel shirt.
In some ways, I believe this small Northern Washington town is my Grayson, right down to the fruit trees. But something inside of me keeps going back to that old man at that late summer party, sharing his heart with me beside a crackling fire and asking me about real, true rest.
Deep down, I think we all long to find that place that gives us that feeling. That peace.Yet can anyone really and truly find peace on a map?
6 years ago, people told me I’d moved to “paradise.”
“Welcome to paradise,” they said again and again.
I remember the day we drove away from my childhood home in that busy California city, the city I loved and hated, the state I was raised in. It felt like the end. It felt like the beginning. I promised myself that nothing would change. Everything did.
900 miles later, our moving van pulled into the 12 acre lot as night fell. The Northern February cold was a slap in my face and I’d cried the entire last leg of the journey, wondering what I’d done. Wondering why I’d left.
But the next morning I woke up. I looked out the window. It looked like paradise.
I felt something stir within me. It was so different than the places I knew. I’d swapped the 7 lane freeways for 2 lane roads. I’d swapped the glittering city glow for no street lights and a million stars that I’d never seen. The crowded sidewalks and neighborhoods for forests and mountains. The hum of the city was gone. The nights were peaceful.
Yet my last 6 years in “paradise” haven’t all been perfect. I followed my family north just a month after my Complex Regional Pain Syndrome diagnosis from Stanford, and the high tide rolled in. I’ve had 6 difficult new diagnosis, my 16th surgery at the beginning of the new year, and a rough 4 months of a high risk pregnancy. I lost my childhood best friend. A man left me. I lost my job. We watched the biggest natural disaster in our state unfold a few miles from our acreage. I’ve watched the darkness fall too close to home, the sheep turn to wolves and the wolves paint the skyline red.
The tide rolled out. We grew close to a community torn by disaster. My brother and I both met and married the ones who make us better beneath these mountains. We moved into our first home as a married couple. My grandmother moved across the country to be closer. I gained a sister. I met my niece. In 4 months I’ll meet the next one. In 5 months I’ll meet the piece of my heart that I thought would stay dark forever.
The tide is fluid. Circumstances change. Paradise looks different depending on the season.
The more I think about that beautiful old man at that summer party, the more I think that maybe Grayson doesn’t exist, not truly, not for anyone. There is no real paradise on this earth, even if it almost perfectly matches your 10 year old dreams. I thought this small Northern town beneath the Cascades was mine, but as long as I put my hope in a place to give me rest, I’ll never truly find it.
People fail you. Your body fails you. The world fails you. You fail yourself, no matter how beautiful the backdrop to your story is.
But “The Lord replied, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.'”
Not a hillside in Grayson. Not this small Northern Washington town beneath the mountains. Not beneath the red arches of Utah or that perfect camping spot in Oregon. There is only one thing in this life guaranteed to give us the true rest that we all seek.
I hope one day I meet that beautiful man again beside a glowing campfire.
I hope my answer comes to my lips faster next time.
So where’s your Grayson?
3 thoughts on “Grayson”
i like your article, very inspiring and thank you for your post……….
i like your article, very inspiring and thank you for your post..,.
i like your article, very inspiring and thank you for your post,….