This morning as I took a break on the 8th floor balcony of the Fine Arts Building, there was a fog in pockets surrounding Murray for miles and miles. Waking up at 4am certainly has its painful moments, but I love that this lifestyle gives me the chance to watch the world wake up. As I make my way to the office, Venus shines over my right shoulder. These days, the sun is just beginning to send word from far away in the East that it is on its way.
I remember a week that I explored the back woods of Lakeshore, that few people had ever seen. My campsite was on the edge of a ridge, looking down on the woods. When I emerged from my tent, the whole forest was filled with fog, and sunbeams were breaking through. The woods felt so alive. During my time eating breakfast and packing up camp, the sun gradually swept the fog away and the heat of the day came on. Had I been on my regular schedule at home waking at 8am, I would have missed nearly all of it.
This week, I’ve been putting together a slide show documentary about my great-grandparents, George and Ruby Hurt, for the Hurt family reunion. I have a library of photos from family reunions passed, scanned to computer. I have interviews from my great aunt and uncle. I also have video I shot of the house my great grandfather built himself. Last night as my wife listened to the sound I had recorded, edited, a put a soundtrack behind, she said it sounded like a Ken Burns Doc. I didn’t realize until then how much I had been influenced by watching so many of his docs religiously.
In making something like this, you can’t help but get sort of obsessed with family members, generations back. I was putting together a section of the movie about the time my grandfather enlisted in the Army to fight in the Korean War. He went to basic training, but came down with the mumps and didn’t ship out. During the time, though, he took a lot of pictures. As I went through the photos and cropped them to fit on a widescreen, I wondered what it must have felt like to him to go from rural Tennessee to all these new places with all these new people. To see this incredible machinery and be trained to use it to defend and kill. I looked at his face, trying to learn more about him, trying to pick apart what he may have been feeling, what his voice may have sounded like, ultimately stuff I’ll never know for sure. Stuff I’ll create theories about for the rest of my life and continue to wonder.
I wonder what made him want to go to war. War is something I really hope I don’t have to experience. I wonder if he was gripped by the same powerful urges I have to travel, to move, to see everything. I can pull up a file and watch him age from a 3 year old child to a teenager to a 20 something soldier, to a young father, right up until months before he died when he had just become a grandfather because of my birth. Because of pictures and stories and pieces of paper he wrote on, there are still these parts of him existing, and seeing them gives me these feelings that even more of him is out there in some way. I don’t have words for it, but I feel it.
Tonight, I begin my second residency in a Masters Program for writing poetry. I didn’t plan to choose poetry, it really kind of forced itself on me. I’m sure it seems to a lot of people like a frivolous pursuit that won’t really ever amount to anything. I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever be able to write poems that will do anything other than satisfy my personal longing to write. Will my poems ever be printed in a book people can buy, and actually do buy? Will my poetry writing ever take care of food for my family, a month of electricity, a fast food lunch? I don’t know, but I think it’s important to find a balance of practical things that keep you safe, but also impractical things that remind us why we want to live. Without either, the other doesn’t seem so important. So, I’m getting a master’s level degree to write poems. I’m not doing it to pad my resume. I’m doing it because I love it, in the way I love my wife, the way I love to sleep on the ground in the woods, the way I thirst to know what it felt like to live before I did.
I wonder if my grandfather thought of these things laying in the barracks, asking himself about his decisions. He would get the mumps and have to come home. After that, he would marry my grandmother, have my mom, and create a life that I can go back and see pieces of in pictures. Lying on that bed, how could he predict he would have a hand in me sitting at this laptop, writing about him? As Saint Paul said, “we’re staring into a fog. We don’t see clearly.” Until the fog clears, we cling to faith, hope, and love, with the greatest being love.