Tuesday, May 11, 2010

RE: The Scent of Beauty

 Last Wednesday I left the mud covered roads of Nashville and the shells of houses that remained beside a river that had left its banks in a wanderlust of destruction to visit a magical city that is itself no stranger to floods, hurricanes, and tragedy. Yet just as Nashville has and will, this city has likewise risen from the ashes more times than anyone can count; and despite the havoc that men and nature have wreaked upon it, the city still shines like some sparkling gem in a queen's diadem. I am talking about none other than fair Charleston.

     The scent of the city captivated me as soon as we crossed the Ravenel Bridge over the Cooper River. The first whiff I caught was a moist humid boggy smell that estuary river cities know all too well but it was overlaid with the heady fragrance of lemony magnolias, the sweetness of Confederate Jasmine and the soft odor of the verbenas. I, who have the silvery sands of Walton County etched into my soul felt a bit like a traitor falling in love with the enemy. No matter how hard I tried to deny it, Charleston exerted her powerful charms on me. The history of our past is everywhere; there is no escaping it. I longed for the beautiful homes on the Battery to whisper their tales of loves won and lost; and I wished that the battlements of the long-since fought wars could tell me of the treachery, the honor, the pride, and the sacrifice that the sons of Charleston had known. Despite the fact that this city is firmly rooted in the South, historians say that she was the home for two civil wars: the War for Independence and the War Between the States. She was a city divided as brothers and neighbors lined up on opposite sides of the fence. Yet survive she did. I suppose if the South were to have an equivalent of that essential bastion of American freedom, Boston, Charleston would have to be the one. She slides gingerly into the present with two feet firmly planted in the past. She is ever-gracious and sometimes a bit shabby, but her elegance, refinement, and ability to endure are indisputable. She has a new!

     Justifiably noted for her fine cuisine, we dined all week in Charleston like kings and queens, and lay our heads to rest at night in a hotel that has had its doors open continuously since the early 1800's. We ate from the gifts of the sea 'till we could eat no more. Po' boys from Joseph's filled with shrimp and oysters, seafood from Shem Creek, and Shrimp Jambalaya over the ever-present creamy stone ground grits at the Rue de Jean. We were there in Charleston to celebrate a wedding, and it was a time of sweet joy among dear friends. My friendship with the groom's mother began in a history classroom at Vanderbilt over thirty-seven years ago and has more than stood the test of time. I was there when her youngest son, the groom, was born. I am honored to even know the two fine men for whom he is named. He and my daughter played together as babies and spent the night together until they figured out in first grade that they were not really a boy and a tom-boy, but members of the opposite sex.
     Our lives with this family are so woven and interconnected that I can scarcely imagine my life without them. We have walked together through good times and bad and sat through more than a 1000 baseball games (she has one son who is still playing as the ballpen catcher for a Major League team). We endlessly chewed Super Bubble bubble gum, kept up a running commentary on the ballgame while we kept an eye out for our other children who were not playing that day, wore out too many plastic chairs to count, and traveled together to places such as Gulfport, Mississippi, and Jamestown, New York, all in pursuit of a baseball crown. We also took vacations to Destin together for many years with two other families, and today all of our children are now grown yet remain friends, just like the parents, thus the saga continues.
    I look at these friends and can readily see what the body of Christ is all about: commitment, love, forgiveness, and fidelity. We are a living testament to the faithfulness of God. There have been weddings, births of children and grandchildren, a funeral of one who made the journey to heaven all too soon, and countless celebrations of every shape, size, and sort. There is a past, a present, and a future for us to treasure and embrace...together. Yet there is nothing sweeter than being there for the coming together of two beautiful joy-filled individuals who enter the sacrament of marriage with the understanding that they are pledging their lives not only to one another, but to the Lord as well. This is the hope of not just their future, but all of ours that we celebrated with great joy.

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