By Bruce Stambaugh
Sadness has come to my favorite valley.
Now, there are plenty of beautiful valleys in our area. For me to say I have a favorite sounds a bit selfish. It’s not. It’s personal.
To be sure, I don’t own the undulating acreage. I just enjoy it.
You can’t find a name for my favored hollow on any map. I’ve never heard anyone refer to it by name in the three decades my wife and I have lived here.An Amish one-room school, Drushel Knoll, might come the closest to naming this wide-open expanse of land surrounded by wooded hills. Drushel was a pioneer landowner where the school sits. The knoll is nothing more than a rise in a sweeping pasture.
To call it a valley might even be a stretch. A quiet brook lazily meanders northwest through this productive, fertile ground. For the longest time, the land was all farmland. Farmsteads dotted hill and dale. More recently, a few residences have also popped up along the skinny township road that rises, falls and rises again east and west.
This is the sacred place where I take my physical and mental exercises. When the weather is decent, I love to walk this humble road over to Ivan’s farm.
I will continue to do so, but Ivan will no longer be there. As he fixed his lunch bucket for work one recent morning, he collapsed and was gone. He was only 65.
Ivan would bicycle by our home on the way to and from his job at a local business we can see from our home. Not long ago, he had turned the hard but satisfying task of farming over to his energetic son, whose wife was one of my former students.
As my wife and I entered the farm building where Ivan’s body lay at rest, friends and warm handshakes greeted us. We paid our last respects to this quiet, hard-working man, husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend.
Tears flowed as we bent to share our condolences with Ivan’s widow and family. In the Amish tradition, family members sit in rows of facing chairs as mourners quietly pass through, shaking hands left and right, nodding heads, sharing moments, memories, and sorrowful tears.Wife, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends, all expressed grace in the Amish manner, through their quiet, reverent presence. It was a communion of sorts, tears for wine, a gathering of steadfast people its bread.
I marveled at the strength of the family, their genuine kindness and positive comments even in the face of their grievous loss. As I scanned the forlorn faces, I saw folks I had not seen for years. Our spirits mutually embraced without actually hugging one another.
When you live in a rural community for decades, you take for granted the integral connections of one family to another. Being among those assembled mourners, the closeness and goodness of our common kinship washed over me.
Ivan was a good man, a quiet man, a respected man, a man of peace. To a member, his family mirrors his pleasant disposition.
It seemed impossible that such sadness could hover over this lovely setting, home, family. And yet, it did. It does.
A different kind of beauty flooded my favorite valley. The loving grace of community responding to a stricken, grieving family surpassed that of the basin’s enchanting pastoral physical features.
Even in death’s darkness, the light radiated in my beloved valley.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2015