The breeze drifted through the garden, the wide circle of camping chairs around the fire pit moonlike and inviting. I knew almost no one at the party, but I didn’t mind.
The old man on my right side leaned in close beside me, his salt and pepper mustache covering his mouth but curling up in a way that had to be a grin. There was a time when he would drive across the country to come to these annual parties. There was a time when he wouldn’t hesitate to step into his car for a good adventure.
Now he had to fly. Now he didn’t like to drive at night. He was thankful for his new hearing aid, and he showed it to me proudly, saying he could hear every word I said. For the first time in years, he’d heard a car blinker that week.
We were silent together for a few minutes as we watched the people talk and laugh around the large circle, and I was happy knowing he could hear them. He’d lived a hard life. Worked hard his whole life. Raised himself, turned every sad story into a joke and complimented every girl.
I liked him immediately.
“When my time comes, I’ll go to Grayson, East Kentucky.”
“What’s in Grayson?” I asked.
“The most beautiful cemetery you’ve ever seen,” he replied, still smiling in the dim sunlight. “A long time ago, I didn’t know where I’d find rest. But then I saw that Kentucky cemetery. At the foot of the green hills, big trees surrounding it. I could see my son coming to visit me now and again. I knew I could rest in Grayson. It was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.
We sat companionably together on the lawn and watched the flames for a few more moments.
“So where do you find rest? Where’s your Grayson?”
I thought about the man’s question again this morning, nearly two years later.
When I was young, I imagined that one day I would live on a farm with a huge apple orchard. My ten-year-old self envisioned myself older, a long braid thrown over one shoulder and a worn flannel shirt on my back as I went outside in the morning sunlight to tend to my trees. I’d have a man who loved me, a dog or two and a big family.
This morning I stood on our acreage in a blue cotton nightgown and rain boots with my sleepy dog and a baby on my hip as the sun made its way higher and higher. A light turned on in the upstairs window next door, and I wondered which one of my seven family member neighbors were awake. I looked out and spotted the dewy fog lingering around the treeline. I glimpsed the plum, cherry, peach and apple trees growing in our yard and our husky leaned her furry head back and grinned at me.
My mind automatically glanced back to my ten-year-old wish, and I thought, “Whoa. This was my dream.” Just give me the flannel shirt.
In some ways, I believed this small Northern town was my Grayson, right down to the fruit trees. But something inside of me keeps going back to that old man at that late summer party, sharing his heart with me beside a crackling fire and asking me about real, true rest.
Deep down, I think we all long to find the place where we’ll find that feeling. That peace. But can anyone really and truly find peace on a map?
There had been good times, but my years in my version of paradise hadn’t all been easy. The years had been hard. I’d trudged through the dark waters of heartbreak, loneliness, depression, lost jobs, lost friends, a handful of new diagnosis and many surgeries.
The tide is fluid. Circumstances change. My paradise looked different depending on the season.
The more I think about that beautiful old man at that summer party, the more I realize Grayson doesn’t exist, not truly, not for anyone. There is no real paradise on this earth, even if it almost perfectly matches your ten-year-old dreams. I thought this small Northern town beneath the Cascades was mine, but as long as I put my hope in a place to give me rest, I’ll never truly find it.
People fail you. Your body fails you. The world fails you. You fail yourself, no matter how beautiful the backdrop to your story is.
But “The Lord replied, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’”
Not a hillside in Grayson. Not this small Northern town beneath the mountains. There is only one thing in this life guaranteed to give us the true rest that we all seek. If we set our eyes on Him, we can all have rest no matter where our feet land in this troubled world.
I hope one day I meet that beautiful man again beside a glowing campfire.
I hope my answer comes to my lips faster next time.
So where’s your Grayson?
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