by Timothy W. Tron
While the past few days have been a blur, there were many poignant moments upon which to reflect. Gazing out across the fervent green pastures before the light of dawn, the cattle were making their way across the begotten landscape. It felt almost as if I was back on the farm in Chatham, there with my cattle grazing before me. As I sipped my campfire percolated coffee, there was a peace of mind that passeth all understanding. Perhaps it’s only in the blood of someone raised in the country, or perhaps, it’s just knowing pleasures of a simpler life. While this was not my land, nor my farm, it was still a homecoming in many ways. This was my first real trip back not only to a place, not only to an event but more so to a collection of souls that had been part of my life before I crossed over that great river. When that journey began, there was a song that spoke to me when the challenges seemed to be uphill, no matter where I turned. The tune was called, “Wide River to Cross,” performed by the Bluegrass group Balsam Range who hails from Canton, NC. The song goes like this,
“There’s a sorrow in the wind
Blowing down the road I’ve been
I can hear it cry while shadows steal the sun
But I cannot look back now
I’ve come too far to turn around
And there’s still a race ahead that I must run
I’m only halfway home
I’ve gotta journey on
To where I’ll find the things I have lost
I’ve come a long, long road
Still I’ve got miles to go
I’ve got a wide, wide river to cross”
Once there was a life that was not well lived. The vessel was hollow, but none could tell from the outside. It wasn’t until that day when the decision was made, to cross that great divide – to serve God in all that I do – that life began to change. While we, my family and I, eventually made it across that great divide, the journey never ends until the day we are laid into that final resting place. In essence, we are only halfway home. While that road we have traveled may seem long, we’ve still many miles to go. Yet, once you make that leap of faith, you are reminded that you’ve come too far to turn back. Each day becomes another opportunity to serve Him in all that you do. There is not a day that the scripture from Colossians does not come to mind, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”
When we take that leap of faith, there is no turning back. Yet, those who have been left behind seldom know the reason, but only that someone has left the presence of their life, be it good or bad. Meanwhile, life goes on. The clock ticks, the wrinkles grow like furrows in the cornrow as the setting sun casts its shadows. One by one, the soldier’s fall – Randy Shumaker, Dave Murph, and so many more. Yet, these two were special, especially on this return trip to the Denton Bluegrass Festival. God had placed them in my life for a reason. We had met through our shared experiences of camping at Denton. Randy’s fellow band members and their families, along with other campers on that hill by the cow pasture, became my extended family. He was one of the founding members of the Second Chance Bluegrass Band, was always there, first thing in the morning regardless of how bad his cancer had progressed, and would say to me, “Great is the day the Lord hath made.” The first time he said it to me, I could only smile. At the time, I had only heard the scripture quoted, but didn’t know it well enough to respond to the pause he had purposefully extended on my behalf. Later, I would come to welcome his pre-dawn greetings with a, “Let us be glad and rejoice in it,” reply.
David Murph, the founder and former member of The Gospel Plowboys, was with me through the crossing of that river. He became like my lighthouse to the incoming ship. He assured me that God was using me in a mighty way. In their final days, both men impressed upon those whom they left behind a sense of urgency and a clear understanding of what it looks like to serve the Lord to the end. Both men passed too early for our earthly understanding, but are now with Jesus in that far brighter land. Each of my dear friends are healed and waiting for the day we can walk along God’s golden shores together, laughing and singing as in days of old. God had allowed them a time and place for which the seeds had been planted for many more. From a distance, we hear of their passing, but from that distant home, we can only know that they are waiting for us for that ultimate day of rejoicing.
My time in Denton this past weekend was not without quiet moments. Though the bed be weary, there was a bequeathing of the solstice in the sounds of raindrops falling upon the tarp above my tent. Warm and dry, the night passed into slumber as strains of stringed music wafted across the hollar. As campers hunkered down under canopies from the formidable precipitation, it failed to dampen their spirits. From one hilltop to the next, like waves of promise buoyed upon the breezes of jubilant voices soothed the weary soul. Like sunshine breaking through the storm, there was a rekindling of a consciousness of life. Like the traveler returning from a long, extended journey, my welcome home had been more abundantly received than ever imagined. It was heart-warming, and impactful at the same time, as one after another of my long-lost friends greeted me like a brother. Like, true friends, we picked up where we left off as if there had never been a separation in time. Some had only heard of my return and stopped by to see if it were so. Like a ghostly figure, we too are only a vapor in the midst of time. So with respect to the admiration of one another, there were some things left unsaid – those that had parted this world for the next, for one, were those often silent moments where words had no place. Randy’s daughter, Jessica, stopped by during one of our jam sessions and sought to say hello. There was so much that I wanted to ask and say to her, but at the moment it didn’t seem right. Instead, as she spoke briefly about her life, my thoughts returned to when I could hear her singing along with her daddy, Randy, at those late-night jam sessions. Later, I regretted not stopping and pulling her aside and just taking the time to sit and dwell in the moment. While she said at one point, “I have never missed a festival for the past 14 years, and I’m not going to start now.” In that defiant voice, there was the sound of her father’s tone ringing true. When she said that, my mind could hear Randy say the same thing, and emotion welled up in my throat. Quietly, I choked back what would have sounded contrite in comparison. Too soon, she would move on, but the memory she had invoked would tarry like the sweet aroma of a freshly baked apple pie sitting on the window sill cooling.
Here and there little children would be riding their bicycles past the campsites and the memories of my own children, and those of my friends would return. Their happy, garish voices would echo back in time. Their joy came not like ours but just living in the freedom of the moment, riding on their own up to the country store to buy another soda and slice of hoop-cheese, or wandering down to the pond to go fishing. The safety of the festival’s confines provided them an opportunity to step back into another time, akin to our own. To grow up in a sleepy little town, like New Harmony, where our only limitations were how many bottles you could collect in order to buy a bag of candy from the five-and-dime. Our energy seemed boundless. We never stopped. We were either running in play across fertile green pastures or riding a bicycle around our little village from sun up to sundown. When the evening baths were complete, there was no sleeplessness. As soon as your head hit the pillow, you were waking up to a new day.
As the gray light of dawn found its way into the corners of my tent, the raindrops could not silence the lowing of the cattle. Some had stopped their music only a short while before. Many would not rise until long after the sun’s arc had reached midday. It was this time of day, the predawn, that made the recollections of previous festivals drift back into one’s mind. Like Randy’s early morning greetings, there were other familiar sounds, but less obvious. Intently, if one listened, the coffee grumbling at the heat from the fire could be heard, shortly before the burp of percolation began. The crackling fire, like the last vestiges of the whippoorwill, united with the sounds of water still dripping from the trees. Here and there another acorn would fall from the many oak trees that shaded our camping site. There were no more sounds of singing or instruments being played – this was the morning after. Like that return across the river, once you have been to the other side, there is an appreciation for all things now.
While you will never be the same, there is a certain contentment in seeing or hearing how some things will never change; albeit, some may be less industrious than others. While our instruments of choice are the same used by our ancestors’ centuries before, our campsites are lined with tents and RV’s which would have made the cover of Popular Science at one time. Yet, there are still the fires to warm the chilly hands and feet when the darkness of night falls.
It is there, in that moment of time, where the past meets the present; when we are afforded the opportunity to return to a place we once knew, to show others that it can be done – to wade across that wide river and find that far distant shore. There is an inspiration of choice, to which each person is offered. It is when we make that journey, we are changed, and when we are allowed to return, as Moses came down from the Mount, the radiance of his being was too great for those to see – likewise, we are changed. Our light can become that for all to see.
As Delmar, in the movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou,” waded back from his Baptism to tell the others, “Step into the water boys, there’s plenty of salvation to be had for all.” Let your sins be washed away, and someday, you too can reach that far distant shore. There weren’t just two men who lived their lives serving until the bitter end, but three. Jesus led the way and was an example to all – by the blood of Christ, we are all washed clean of our sins. Randy and Dave would have wanted you to know that this was their calling. Someday, it maybe yours too.
As the campfire fades, the time slips away and soon, it is time to say goodbye once more. But this time, unlike before, it is, “until we meet again.” Whether here on this earth, or on God’s golden shore, we shall meet again, and what a day of rejoicing it will be.
Thanks be to God.
 Colossians 3:23-24 KJV