Having a twin is a fearful business, sharing so much for so long.
He and his sister were precluded from the usual mischief of identicals, so their bond and boldness brought new imaginings of misbehavior. They were without guile, merely sharing together the last of five births. Two surviving elder siblings, likewise sister and brother, already carved roles as dutiful firstborn and budding black sheep. To the twins in those early days, then, fell blind love and none-too-watchful parents. The farm meant work, and neither keeping up nor getting in the way was open to them.
They had adventures lavished on them by the land. Tadpoles needed snatching, blood-red clay needed molding, dogs needed chasing. Someone invariably wound up locked in the smokehouse, stuck on the sandbar in the creek, or dangling from that lowest pecan limb just high enough to make the ground too far away. Getting caught meant a wink and playful smack; a switching and dinnerless bedtime awaited discovery of more grievous transgression. Most of these were concealed by the unspoken pact between them to which all children subscribe, that the silence of both was to be preferred to the punishment of either. Eighty years hence, hints of those mutual secrets (embarrassingly innocuous) were ever visible in the mirth of their meetings.
I’ve spent a good deal of time in recent years contemplating the bloodguilt of America’s treatment of her native people, from wars to removal and beyond. In Chattanooga, this ought to be impossible to ignore. So many of our place names (Chattanooga itself, Chickamauga, Ooltewah, Sequatchie, Catoosa, even Tennessee) were given before a white foot ever came to this area.
And yet, we do a good job of ignoring it.
I live five minutes from the home of the last Cherokee chief before removal. A scant hundred yards from the library branch where I’m typing right now is an historic cemetery, all that remains from a huge mission (named in honor of the great David Brainerd) to the Cherokee that was shuttered in 1838 at the start of the Trail of Tears. Both of these sites are in limited repair, at best, and neither is visited by more than a handful of people any given week. The numerous Civil War sites around here are incredible to behold, with impressive monuments and reenactments to keep the past ever alive before us. We’d rather not remember the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and others we so unceremoniously evicted, though.
This is just a musing, but I have to believe examining our past in this regard will come up in my work in a big way. And its something I want to be sure my children understand and wrestle with (growing up, as they are, on land obtained by high legal crimes).
For now, here are a few pictures of the Brainerd Mission Cemetery I took just a couple of hours ago. What are we losing when we forget. Certainly less than the Cherokee lost, and therein is the problem.
A brief update to “The Curious Difficulty of Numinous Fiction”
A friend (who serves as a missionary in Latvia) shared this comment via my wife’s Facebook page (I, myself, still a Zuckerberg denier):
“Here are a couple thoughts in reaction: 1) Maybe one reason American Protestants (I think really it is more of an “evangelical” problem than a protestant one) don’t write better fiction is that there is insufficient market for it. I mean, why does LifeWay sell Thomas Kinkade prints and not better art? 2) Here I am just thinking out loud; this is just an idea for conversation/controversy. You ask: ‘Why is it that those who take the Bible most literally and believe Reformed doctrine most fully write fiction most dreadfully?’ Maybe that is the problem? Evangelicals (again, I think it is more of an evangelical problem than a Protestant one) have a need to read too much literally and insufficiently value symbol, indirection, “telling the truth slant” (to borrow a phrase from Emily Dickinson). And perhaps Reformed doctrine thinks everything can be systemetized into neat boxes, or sees too much in black and white, instead of shades of gray in which real life is lived. I would suggest that neither of those two ways of thinking are helpful for good fiction. By the way, it seems to me that John Updike, John Irving, and Frederick Buechner should figure in the discussion.”