We walked from Dove Cottage to St. Oswald’s church, where the church contained a fine memorial to William Wordsworth. As we entered the church, an organist was playing one of my favorite pieces, Jerusalem, and I knew we were on holy ground. The words of the poet were inspired by an apocryphal story that a young Jesus, accompanied by his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea traveled to England and visited Glastonbury. The poem says, “And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green, and was the holy Lamb of God on England’s pleasant pastures seen?” Unforgetable moment! The church is named after St. Oswald, an early Christian king of Northumberland, who is said to have preached on this site. He was known for is open-handedness to the poor and needy. His symbol is a human hand – a hand that can pray, give to others and wield a sword. The church dates back to the 14th century. One senses that this is a place of history, where imagination can run wild. We walked to the grave site where William Wordsworth is buried beside his wife, his sister, his children and others members of the family. I stopped to pray and give thanks for the poet, and some of the lines from Wordworth’s Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey. came to mind, “I felt a presence that disturbs me with joy of elevated thoughts, a sense sublime.” Little did l know then that five years later I would walk on the very ground where Wordsworth wrote these lines near the ruins of the abbey. Such are peak experiences of life that linger when all else dissolves into the mist of time..
One of my favorite songs has these concluding lines “Time it was, and what a time it was. A time of innocence, a time of confidence. Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.” When you reach the mid-80s, memories are very real. In the years 2000 we traveled to the British Isles and a favorite spot was the Dove Cottage in Grasmere, in the Lake District, where William Wordsworth lived. Since taking a course on the Romantic Poets at Davidson College, I have admired the poet’s work. Professor Henry Lilly had a remarkable ability to make the poets come alive. Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy. and his wife Mary, lived at Dove Cottage from 1799-1809. I remember asking to see the famous poet’s study. The guide said his library was in the house, but his study was the great out-of-doors. I remember climbing upstairs and walking into Wordsworth’s study. There he glanced at the lakes, and composed some of his most memorable poems. Among them was Ode to Immortality, written in 1804, with those unforgettable lines, “Trailing clouds of glory do we come God who is our home.” I remember sitting in a chair and glancing out the window and somehow recapturing the moments of Wordsworth’s inspiration. Wordsworth was a constant walker. It is said that Wordsworth walked a total of 175,000 miles in his lifetime, When he revisited Wales in 1798, William and Dorothy took a four day ramble that eventually brought them to the ruins of Tintern Abbey, beside the river Wye. It was there he penned one of his most memorable Poems, Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey. Walking helped the poet probe the deep mysteries of the human soul. I can’t wait until Spring finally comes, and I can get out of this shell and walk in God’s world. Yet one of my fondest memoryies is sitting in that chair in Wordsworth’s study in Dove Cottage and sensing a presence sublime beyond this life.
One of our pas(s)times in our post-retirement stage is viewing good movies. I heartily recommend NEBRASKA, an incredible story of a wizened old man, Woody Grant, seeking to grasp some final meaning in his empty life. I could not help but resonate with Woody, with his flowing, uncombed white hair, scraggly beard and indomitable search for that $1 million sweepstakes he thinks he has won. Hardly able to walk and a man of few words, Woody is relentless in this last stage pilgrimage. Many of the scenarios of old age are present in this film: Woody’s obvious frailty, the attempt by the family to put the old man in a nursing home, questions about Alzheimer’s and father-son relationships in old age. Filmed in black and white, the viewer travels roads from Billings,Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska with Woody and David, his son. There is a touch of humor in the film, as Woody and David try to retrieve his dentures he lost by train tracks. The scene where David and brother Ross steal an air compressor and then have to return it to the barn is hilarious. One is captivated by this old curmudgeon, whose had little to praise in his life. He had been a constant alcoholic, and there was little in his past that was of note. His final wish is to leave a truck to his sons as his last legacy, and one has to admire his stubborn resolve to accomplish his dream, even if he has to walk from Billings to Lincoln, When Woody and David return to Hawthorne, the town where Woody grew up and find his old home in shambles, one is reminded of another film, “Return to Bountiful.” There are many character studies in the story, especially when his family and friends think he has won a million dollars and the news spreads throughout town.I will not spoil the film by sharing its heartfelt ending. In a culture obsessed with violence and sordidness, it was refreshing to watch this story unfold to a wonderful denouement that left you with a good feeling as you walked out of the theatre. I would hope that this classic story might win an Academy Award Sunday night, but stiff competition probably precludes that. Anyhow, those of us who are old, adult children with aging parents, and people of all age can relate to this story.
I always knew that my parents naned me for my great-great-grandfather, Richard Lyon, who was an 18th century Methodist minister in Camden, New Jersey. What they didn’t tell me was that there was another Richard Lyon, an African American slave Richard, born 1774, who was a slave in North Carolina and later belonged to a distant relative, Matthew Lyon in Eddyville, Kentucky. Richard and his wife were sold to a Mr. Micheson. Richard began holding services on a black woman, Aunt Chloe’s back porch in 1809. Micheson was so agitated by Lyon’s preaching, he dubbed him a trouble maker and sold him to Matthew Lyon. Matthew made a deal with Richard that he could earn his freedom for a credit of $15 a month until $900 was earned. During these five years Richard would be free for half a day on Saturday and all day Sunday. During that time Richard visited his wife and children on the Micheson farm. and did a lot of preaching,holding services on Aunt Chloe’s back porch. With the help of Aunt Chloe’s husband, George, benches were built and set up in the kitchen when a meeting was held. According to Elizabeth A. Roe’s history, Reflections of Frontier Life, (1855), “Richard was the first Methodist minister to maintain a combined congregation of whites and blacks in Eddyville, and Aunt Chloe’s summer kitchen was the first Methodist meeting house in Eddyville.” Later Richard raised 1400 hundred dollars to free his wife and children and went to Illinois in 1814. There he disappears into obscurity. What a story!! A former slave became the first Methodist minister in Eddyville, Kentucky and pastored an integrated church. So, I will all the more honor my name, Richard Lyon, remembering this story.
We attend many funerals of residents in this community where the average age is 91!
Usually, before the service begins, I leaf through the hymnbook for some message that catches my attention. Recently, I saw these words from a hymn by William Gay, “Each winter as the years grow older, we each grow older, too. The chill sets in a little colder, and verities unknown seem shaken and untrue.” I can relate to that. As Tennyson’s Ulysses says so well, reflecting on old age, “Much is taken ….” Sure we who are old lose a lot of confidence. I know I am less sure about my steps when walking, and constantly fearful of a major fall. I have lost a lot of my confidence in public speaking, as my uncertain gait makes it difficult to navigate around most pulpits. I have restricted my preaching to one small church, where I can handle being in the pulpit without falling flat on my face. Years ago when I was a assistant basketball coach, comprised mainly of African Americans from urban centers, we had a slogan, Shake and Bake! Now, much older, my slogan has become, Shake and Take. But Ulysses adds, ” though much is taken, much abides.” Yeas ago I remember a sermon my father, Howard Moody Morgan preached from Hebrews 12 on “What Cannot Be Shaken.” We live in a time when much is being shaken. This erratic weather caused by climate change has shaken our security as we grapple with earthquakes, tsunamis and gridlock and loss of power due to ice storms. The volatile stock market at times can shake our security of financial well-being. But there are two verities that cannot be shaken: that God’s love surrounds us in every situation and that there is a better world beyond this one, where love, truth, and beauty can never be shaken.
Surprise, surprise, it’s snowing again” I am resorting to all manner of mental gymnastics to avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder. One is listening for Freudian slips and malapropisms by residents in the dining room or other places in this community. Mrs Malaprop was a character in a 17th century play who used words in an absurd or humorous way that sounded the same as other words. For example, Yogi Berra once said, “Texas has a lot of electrical votes,” and Archie Bunker once criticized “the woman’s lubrication movement.” Or, a rolling stone gathers no moth.” I heard a woman discuss that she could never have children because the doctor told her “There is a problem with your eucharist!” I overheard a man say, “This snow is hard on my science.” Another muttered, “You could knock me over with a fender.’” I heard a perfect Freudian slip one day outside a drug store. I was conversing with a woman who seemed in a hurry, and she said. “I will be back in a movement.” Later, she was checking out laxatives. Of course one overhears other funny statements by residents. The wife of a man who never stops talking, said “He talks all the time but never says anything!” A great grand daughter of a resident told us, “Paw Paw has a terrible stomach ache. Guess he’s going to have a baby!” Oh well, it got my mind off of this eternal winter. A dear woman, now 94 years of age, told us , “The Lord surrounds you..” A word for every day!
I continue my endless look at snow out of our window. It has been a constant companion for months and the end is not in sight. Even when the snow melts and I can see some green, soon that too will be covered with a snowy mass. Being forced indoors we have become constant floorwalkers, but even there I cannot escape the snow. On almost every ledge outside resident apartments are grinning snow men who seem to say, Get used to me, for I will be for a while.” I have even learned a few word, chionophobia,fear of snow. I resonated with a recent post on my brother John’s blog. The title was: A Sign says It All, and you see a Stop sign amid all the Pennsylvania snow. However, I have no right to complain when 12% of the earth’s landscape have permanent snow and ice! Even writing blogs seemed clogged by the weather. So,I took the praying hands off the chapel piano, put them in the snow for a moment, and prayed, Enough is enough!”