I like to think of the past as a neighbor, whom we do well to visit every now and then. A visit to this neighbor helps us put things in perspective, like where we come from, and how short a time we’re going to be on this earth. We can find this neighbor in a classic novel, an ancient ruin, a museum, or any number of other places. One of my favorite places to look is a cemetery.
Locally, I enjoy the hike to Lost Cove, an abandoned mountain community just across the Tennessee line in Yancey County, North Carolina.
I like the journey there as my body, with its capacity of maybe 100 years, meanders through mountains already millions of years old and with maybe millions more to go. Though I enjoy the culture and vibrancy of the centers of the world, I’m also drawn to its margins, not least to quiet hilltops in the woods where, in solitude and silence, I can let my mind ponder a people and a place that preceded my own entrance into the world.
In Lost Cove's small cemetery, the grave of Bonnie Miller, age 16, is marked by a hand-carved headstone. Kneeling to read the inscription, one learns that Bonnie was the daughter of John Miller, and at the bottom of the headstone, written in a different script, is a line from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
When I come here I know that travel is more than cruises and holidays, and that our days are finite. I know that Bonnie’s headstone bears the marks of a father’s love, as imperfect as it may have been. And I know that holding too tightly to most things is a fool’s errand, for we are all just passing through.