Walking the Land of Our Fathers
I’m in East Tennessee right now, writing from my hotel, where the rooms overlook the Smokies and everyone calls me “dearie.”
Every time I come here, I feel closer to my father than before. He was born here and comes from a large, historic Kingsport family that had deep ties to the land and the community around it. I always leave wanting to know even more about the small farm my grandparents built by hand, the tiny cemetery where most of the family is buried, and why the sweet tea is just so good here.
Sadly on this visit I’m not here for the sweet tea, but for a funeral. My uncle Bob passed away last week after a short but severe bout with cancer.
Bob introduced me to The Twilight Zone, Bach, microscopes, and egalitarianism (which relates to the role of women in Christianity). He was a great mind in the field of theology, a leader in the egalitarian movement, and a dear friend.
Bob married my aunt – my father’s sister – after meeting her in seminary. Through the years, he deeply rooted himself in every place they lived. He and my aunt have cared for countless people across the country and the world through communal meals, education, and compassionate hospitality. Even in places where people took his genius for granted or found him bizarre, he served.
And he did all of this as a stranger in a strange land, because Bob was Australian.
His funeral is this evening. Strangely, in exactly two months I will be on a plane to his homeland. I will walk Australian streets and learn Australian culture.
As I look out over the mountains and imagine my father as a child, roaming these hills and getting into trouble, I find myself hopeful that the coming trip to Melbourne will help me mourn and remember Bob with the gratitude his life deserves.
Sometimes it’s easy to wonder why new migrants and refugees have trouble letting go of their homelands. We want them to assimilate quickly, and we provide support to help them get there.
But we forget that our homelands are our people. When we lose our people, we still have the earth they’ve walked.
My prayer is that every foreigner forced to flee their land because of atrocity will one day be able to return home, to walk the streets of their fathers and mothers, to have the right to remember.
(Photos: My uncle Bob, who’s published under the name R.K. McGregor Wright / Cades Cove, Smoky Mountains – by Jarek Tuszynski)