On Labor Day I said goodbye to the Welches' Farm.
I sloshed through morning dew as the sun lit the corners of the wheat stalks on the sacred ground, pulling back the curtain of dawn for me for the last time. It was smaller than it had been in my childhood: a smaller driveway circled beside a smaller white farmhouse surrounded by smaller flowerbeds beside a smaller chicken coop on the way to a much smaller barn (how could such an enormous fortress have shrunk that much!). Mrs. Welch welcomed me inside the hallowed walls of the kitchen where I had ate so many carbon-copies of the same hearty meals, the only room that had actually grown larger now that it was missing the table that somehow managed to hold the members of both of our families of six together while we ate and listened to Mr. Welch read from the Bible while I drew portraits of him and his silver beard. Most of the homemade posters of Bible verses and magazine clippings of beautiful images had been removed, but a few lingered in corners or taped to boxes of dusty mason jars filled with no-longer-fresh herbs.
I said goodbye to the basement where we had huddled during a tornado while my father watched it from the driveway. I said goodbye to the living room where Mrs. Welch’s voice, both gentle and strong, had recited the litany of prayers every night before bed. I said goodbye to the piano room, long since bereaved of its piano, where the Welch sisters and I would stage performances of The Music Band of God for which we would spend hours practicing, designing fliers, and distributing tickets to our family members. I said goodbye to the creaky stairs that I was sure would break and send me careening to the depths beneath one day, but that certainly never would now. I said goodbye to the attic that still smelled of honeycomb.
It was hallowed space, space that had become more hallowed to me the more my own life became unstable, the more people stepped out my world and the ground under my feet changed from Midwestern farmland to southern clay to thin tobacco soil to Parisian boulevards to urban sidewalks. Whatever side of the world I might find myself, I had known that there was still a wholesome farm where the same family was eating the same bowls of oatmeal for breakfast every morning, and the doors of that place of peace would open for me when I returned. Now they opened for the last time.
They opened for the last time because Mrs. Welch had attempted suicide recently, and in her process of healing the doctors discerned that the farm was not a safe place for her.
They opened for the last time because the children had grown up and fled the isolation and monotony of their childhood.
They opened for the last time because while the farm held all the beauty of my childhood memories, it held darkness as well.
And that morning, as I walked on my longer, adult legs beside Mrs. Welch who sang to welcome the morning, as we fed the cats and watered the flowers as if it weren’t for the last time, as I looked into her wise eyes that had discerned some of the dark places of my childhood, I felt invited to love the dearest place of my childhood in a deeper way than I had before. In a way I couldn’t have as a child, I could love the place and see its darkness. I could learn of the pain that walked up the creaky stairs that still savored of goodness, supporting healing from the pain while still loving the goodness.
The world resounds with beauty while it trembles with agony. Let me not ignore the agony. Let me never forget the beauty.