Eight days ago, I embarked on a journey. It was the end of Spring Break, and I’d been on campus and around town the entire week. Now, at 6:30 that Friday morning, I was preparing for something entirely different. My roommate and I had packed a lunch for 4 in a freezer bag. We grabbed water bottles and iPods. Finally, layered appropriately for the rising temperatures throughout the day, she and I trekked down to another women’s dorm. There we met two friends, bleary-eyed as we.
In spite of our early dawning, we were excited. Today was an adventure! We were driving across Virginia and back to school again in that day. So in the early morning light, we took off.
A couple hours into our trip, we stopped for breakfast at a little bagel shop in a small town. We ordered our food and crammed into a booth. I was soaked from a fall I had taken in the parking lot–right into a puddle of freshly-melted snow. We laughed and took pictures and enjoyed some delicious bagels. After buying a few more for the road, we were off again!
After another couple hours, we reached the focal point of our journey. We were at the southernmost point in our journey and literally in the middle of nowhere. The town’s called Horse Pasture, and we sought a small church there. After getting lost for a bit, we finally stumbled upon the old building and its accompanying cemetery. See, that graveyard was the real reason we had come to Horse Pasture. My friends had agreed to journey with me to find a certain grave. We were looking for the grave of Charles Wingfield, the late pastor of my church back home. I was away at college when he passed away and had come home to find that his family was journeying to Virginia to bury him. So when I got back on campus for the spring, I began planning my way to that grave.
With my three friends nearby, I began searching for the grave. It only took seconds to find the family plot where his father and brother are buried. Slowly, I lowered the small pot of flowers we had brought to the ground beside the Wingfield stone. I didn’t cry at first. In fact, I initially walked away from the graves feeling complete. I had done what I had come to do. I had said goodbye to a man who influenced me so greatly. But as my friends and I wandered through the graveyard, pointing to graves that dated back to just after the Civil War, the magnitude of this visit hit me.
I had come to say goodbye–not forever, true, but goodbye all the same. Perhaps I had imagined that when I came home for the summer, Charles would still be there. Perhaps I just pushed the loss from my mind in the rush of the semester. Perhaps I thought I was done grieving. But I wasn’t. So I made my way back to his family’s graves.
I, maybe for the first time, thought of Charles as young. I had only known him after he was a grandfather. But standing by his father’s grave, I thought about the moment Charles’ father held his baby son. Looking at his brother’s grave, I thought about the trouble those two little boys might have gotten into. I thought about Charles being young and in love. I thought about him being my age. It wasn’t until Charles had been in Heaven for 3 months that I thought about him as young. That moment may have been the first time I saw Charles as a whole person–not just as who my young mind perceived him to be.
So I stood there, still in college and still very young. Tears welled up, and I missed Charles. I realized that he was not going to be back home when I got there. I wouldn’t be able to find his most recent sermons online. He had preached his final sermon to that church back home. He had preached many sermons in that little church where he was buried. He had preached the Gospel his entire life. And I missed that preacher. He was a man to admire.
I walked away from that grave a little while later. I was sad but hopeful. I was glad I had gone to Horse Pasture, even if it was just to say goodbye.