The Boulder in the Road – Excerpt From Calliput Mountain


“Does it occur to you,” Tom said, as if reading her mind, “that we’re living in a time warp?  That things from the past are happening all over again?  As if time itself is trying once more to get it right, trying to get around a huge boulder in the road?”

Tom felt contrite when he saw a brief flicker of alarm cross Lucille’s face.  He hadn’t meant to alarm her.  He had only been thinking out loud.

“I believe,” the old man said as he reached for a water bottle, “the gov’ment is trying to turn these mountains into a penal colony.  Four prisons so far, just in our own mountains, another prison in the works.  Add to that the ones already built on nearby mountaintops which were dynamited for cheaper access to the coal.  All done under the guise of helping us by providing a few more jobs.  A few more jobs that are a drop in the bucket of what’s needed here. Meanwhile, they’re taking away the freedom our ancestors fought for more than 200 years ago.  It’s happening again.”

“What do you mean, again!”  A voice challenged.

“In the 1700s England treated America like their own private penal colony.  They emptied their prisons, sending at least fifty thousand convicts here.  Most of them had been jailed for trivial offenses, but more than fifty thousand were sent to this area. They arrived in convict ships in Maryland and Virginia.  Most were jailed for trivial offenses, but their main offense was in being poor. The poor were considered a drain on society.  What better way to be rid of them than ship them to the colonies, sell them into slavery to provide free labor to the elite?

“Many of the prisoners later ended up in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky.  Before we became a state.  You likely have them in your own ancestry.” 

“I thought England sent the prisoners to Australia. It’s well-known that country was settled by convicts shipped from England.”  A murmur ran through the crowd.

“Are you saying our ancestors, who settled these mountains, were among the convict slaves?”

“Some were.  But many of the convicts were victims of repression.” the old man said.  “Most likely guilty of petty crimes for survival, a loaf of bread to keep from starving.  You see what I’m saying?  It might allow you to understand why the government thinks it’s fitting to locate the prisons here.”

Tom found himself enthralled by old man Honeycutt’s words.  Why had he never thought about this?  He’d known, having read it in the history books, that England had shipped convicts to the colonies.  But he’d never thought to wonder about it.  Where had the convicts ended up after their time was served?  How many settled in the mountains? It now seemed strange, that he hadn’t wondered. Why hadn’t he?  Wondered, that was.  He’d swallowed the story about them fighting for freedom of religion, as if that was all there was to it.  Now he could see that the long road that led from the founding of America to the present was rife with frightful revelations.

His thoughts drowned out the noises around him.  He’d never understood why his people were held in such low esteem.  His ancestors had pioneered these mountains.  They were among the original settlers. They fought throughout the Revolution to gain America’s freedom.  They were part and parcel of the Overmountain Men.  Leaving their humble homesteads to challenge and defeat the boastful British Major Patrick Ferguson at the Battle of Kings Mountain.  The battle turned the winning tide of the American Revolution to the Patriots. Afterwards they returned to their mountain homes and reared their families. So what happened?

Somewhere they lost face. Was it because of their homespun ways? Their hard work plus their reluctance to upgrade their status through the appearance of material wealth? They had continued to value the ways of their ancestors. Feeling no need to replace the old ways with questionably new ones. Whatever it was, the world that later re-discovered them behind their mountain walls called them ignorant. They felt justified in considering their resources fair game. As if their coal was there for the taking, however cheaply they managed to take it. Even if they had to blow off the mountaintops and just scoop it out.

Find Your Own Truth

To be a person of truth, be swayed neither by approval nor disapproval. Work at not needing approval from anyone and you will be free to be who you really are. — Rebbe Nachman

It sounds simple. To be a person of truth, be who you really are. But what if, one day, you realize what you’re reflecting is other people’s truth, not your own?. First it was your parents truth; you were thrilled by the light of approval in their eyes. Well, of course! What are parents for, after all, but to teach us their own truth. We have to start somewhere.

But deep inside us is our own truth. Which may conflict with our parents truth. You are not your parents; you are growing into your own person. Only you can know the truth of who you are. And the only way you can know your truth is by examining your beliefs. Where did they come from? Do they have the ring of authenticity or are they things you were told and accepted without question?

If you find some shreds of old beliefs that don’t have the “ring of truth” do you dare to explore the possibility they are wrong? Are you willing to modify them into what does ring as true to you? And then are you willing to resist being influenced by other opinions?

Rebbe Nachman says “Work at not needing approval from anyone and you will be free to be who you really are.” The key word is “work” because finding our truth is not easy for most of us. We have to dig for it, defend it, even suffer for it.

But in the end, to know your truth is to know pure happiness.

How do I Offend Thee? Think on What I Say

(With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

How do I offend thee? Let me count the ways.
I offend thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach when I say good riddance to your
Shackles of propriety. You say I’m not allowed
To have beliefs that differ from your own. Even though such
Beliefs come from my heart and mind only to guide my own life,
Not to inhibit yours. I offend thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. That America
Is the land of freedom to believe as one’s conscience allows,
Not as others say. I offend thee with the breath, smiles, tears,
Of all my life! And, if God chooses, I shall offend thee until death.

God Makes No Mistakes

I was an arrogant child. I thought I was smarter than God because I could see where he’d screwed up. While my mother prayed every night with us children sitting on the floor around her (since we didn’t have that many chairs) I blasted God in my mind for the early death of our dad, for our poverty. Later, knowing God could read my mind, I feared the hot cinders of his wrath raining down on me from the sky.

But rebellion boiled inside me, where I secretly sneered at the preacher’s daughter while envying her for her pretty blue Easter dress. I softened my pain by wrapping it in anger and built a wall around my vulnerability. My anger was not allowed to be expressed in the face of my mother’s prayers of thanksgiving for God’s love and tender care (ha!) so I kept it between us two.

One evening while my mother was thanking God for getting us a load of coal to get us through the winter, my teenaged brother Andy called from the kitchen after having refused to join the circle, “I’m the one who got us that load of coal!” Mom did not acknowledge his outburst but I was thrilled by it. “There,” I thought. “There, God.” And I was content to know I was not alone

Of course I would grow through the bruises and heartaches of living to become grateful for the life I had, to recognize that it was granted to me by a loving God. Who also let me find my own way to exist in this strange life on his beautiful planet. But also to realize that his love knows no limits, that he loves each and every one of us.

My gripe today is not against God but against a society that doesn’t value its people as God values us. We have groups called minorities who have been bullied and excluded due to their differences from the mainstream of society—people who even dare to use the supposed words of God to justify their insufferable actions.

Some progress towards equality has been made with the larger groups of minorities but one group that has been blatantly excluded includes gays and lesbians.

In the beginning of my realization there were such beings in the world I too felt uncomfortable with them. It just didn’t “feel” right. But having learned to question my feelings since my first run-in with God, I asked myself how it would feel to love someone of the same sex in the same way one loves someone of the opposite sex, that merging into a couple that makes the world glow with an intense joy that lights up our spirit.

How would it feel to be born with that difference, yet be told I must “have” or “pretend” to have that feeling for someone whom I can’t love? Otherwise to be told I’m bad, depraved, and out of favor with God. Because gay people recognize early in life that they’re attracted to their own sex even if the full realization takes place much later, it is obvious to me that when God created them, he did it with love. He did not make a mistake.