Privilege

I always noticed him as I walked out of my parents house growing up. Tall, thin and moving slowly his speed never seemed to vary. He wore the same clothing every day….dark gray IMG_6439pants, a lighter gray work shirt with his name embroidered above the pocket, thick soled factory work boots and a straw fedora or “gentlemans” hat on his head. He never failed to smile when he saw me….we shared a bond…….

James Pete

He was the “yardman” for my parents when I was a child. There was one before James, his name was Hobart and while I heard stories of him, he was gone before I was old enough to remember him, but James was the man. He mowed grass, pulled weeds, planted flowers, raked, tilled the beds right alongside my mother. These were the days before weed eaters and gas blowers. The work was by hand and always happened in the heat, humidity and rain of the southern summers, yet he was always there…working through it all.

He was kind and gentle and taught me more about life, people and the way we can be than almost any other adult. Growing up as a black man (he never would have used the term “African American”) in the Heart of Dixie in those days had to be incredibly difficult. I have no idea how much schooling he had, but I doubt very much, although he could read and write. When he was a boy he worked on the watercress farms that dotted the landscape of north Alabama. From aluminum jon boats the boys reached into the murky water gathering the cress from the ponds. His lower arms were covered in scars that he said were from the water moccasins or cotton mouths that often bit him. I remember staring at him open mouthed when he told me this – the dreaded cotton mouth was the most feared snake in the south and we all thought they’d kill you. He said that he’d been biten so often that he had become immune to their venom….to this day I don’t know if it was true or not…..but I believed him. As he came of age he went to work at a local cotton gin where he had the most dangerous job of feeding the cotton into the gin itself. Somewhere around 30 his hand got caught in the gin and crushed…..It never did work right after that.

James lived in Tanner about 20 miles from my home. He farmed, raising vegetables and hogs (he never called them pigs). He was married and had several daughters all of whom I didn’t meet until much later in life. He drove an old Chevrolet Cheyenne pickup truck, his right hand draped across the steering wheel because he couldn’t really “grip” the wheel, often picking me up at school in the afternoons. I told him that I would drive a truck one day….he just laughed and laughed…saying “that’s what all boys say”……I loved to listen to his stories…the lilt of his voice…his glowing skin and smile that crept across his face. Working beside him in the yard, watching him lift his hat and wipe sweat from his brow….and planting taught me patience. Every Christmas we shared gifts. I always gave him something I made, my parents gave him money and he always…always brought fresh sausage to the house for our Christmas breakfast. The flavor of that lingers in my mouth to this day……..

I’m not sure what brought all of these memories to mind over the weekend…perhaps it was IMG_6363what happened in Charleston early in the summer….maybe Ferguson or Baltimore or the dozen other atrocities that have happened….both those we hear about and those that never make the “news”. I’ve been blessed far more than most and have lived a life that has been wonderful and incredible. I’ve faced challenges and fears and difficulties just like everyone else, but I also know that those I’ve faced pale in comparision to those faced by folks like James Pete. The difficulties he faced – for no other reason than skin color – were enormous – very likely beyond my comprehension – and yet – he moved with grace and love through life.

I wonder what he’d say if he saw what was happening in our society today? You see I grew up in a South that was very different than the one we see today. Kathryn Stocketts book The Help was more truth than fiction. As I watch and listen to my children and their friends – many of whom are African American, I am happy to see that times are changing…just not as fast as I’d like. To be honest I’d never really thought about the Confederate battle flag and how hurtful that could be to a portion of our country. I get it now. So many of leaders are right – Black Lives do matter….so do Hispanic, Asian, White, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and every other life….they all matter. None more than the other – all very equal.  As we move forward as a society and country I hope that we will all come to that realization – ALL LIVES MATTER and everyone deserves to be treated with respect because we are all human beings.

James is gone now. Without a doubt to a much better place. The sun is blazing through the trees and as I stare across this mountain towards the town of Robbinsville, I realize that the IMG_6436lessons and gifts he gave me are too numerable to count. He taught me about strength….the kind that comes from inside. He taught me about joy from seeing the smallest flowers bloom. He taught me how important all life is and he taught me respect, for myself and others….a lesson that the thought of him this weekend reminded me of. He taught me that if I find a glimpse of understanding in someone’s smile, touch, laugh, or connection that I am lucky beyond belief…for to be known and understood, even for a moment, fills my soul in a way that most things can’t reach. While he taught me most of these lessons when I was a boy, they’ve really just taken root. I was privileged and honored to have known him, eaten with him, shared water with him….oh….yes….and James…..I thought you’d like to know…..I drive a truck……my hand often draped across the steering wheel….just like yours.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Adventurer & Explorer

Alone, I Surrender…..

August 18, 2015

I must admit that writing for me isn’t an “all the time” thing. I write when I’m inspired and this has been a tough summer for that. Inspiration hasn’t come easily….perhaps because I was too involved with all of the things happening around me. Lessons were thrown my way far too often for comfort this summer. Difficult ones to learn and constant, but I’m listening……and learning…..

I’m sorry I’ve been so quiet these few months.

 “if you wish to be a warrior prepare to get broken, if you wish to be an                                   explorer prepare to get lost and if you wish to be a lover prepare to be both”                                                                                                                               – Daniel Saint 

I’m alone here on the mountain and yet not. Sometimes it is overwhelming and sometimes not. Challenges that once were shared are now seen only by the face I see in the mirror. I don’t always like it, but this is time I need. To pause…..to reflect….to learn and to grow. Grow…yes, grow. As I watch others around me I am amazed at how we’ve become so judgemental….the “they should be this” or “they should do that” or even the “if I were them” seems to have become a cacophony resounding through our society. Our abilities to criticize overwhelms all of us and few are taking the the time to pause – to take a long hard look in our mirror at ourselves. It’s  those moments- the moments of “self” where we are able to really grow and learn….this is the side of the spectrum where I lean. Often inwardly focused on myself, my failures, shortcomings and lack of ability……not to blame, but to improve. My “self critique” is highly critical and often more tough than warranted. This inward focus can be very helpful, but often in those moments…….

we tend to forget how good we really are….

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“Who looks outside dreams;                                                               Who looks inside awakes.”                                                                                                   – Carl Jung

There’s a light breeze blowing across the mountain tonight. The prayer flags are flying, snapping back and forth in the wind, . Cicadas are calling each other, the sing song of their buzz is almost intoxicatingly loud….it is August after all…..Alone yes….Lonely…sometimes, but this is time for me. To heal. To become better and more focused. To see all of the gifts that surround me.

It’s in these moments where I discover. When I surrender. Surrender for me isn’t the allowing things to happen to me, but allowing things to happen for me. It is the constant unfolding of grace. It’s my active participation in the art of allowing. The silence of prayer, the motion of a meaningful smile or a new conversation that takes me to a place or person I never thought of visiting. It is the truth of where I am – outside of the expectations I create.

The simple idea that everything I once thought of as being bad that has happened has led me to a wonderful place. It is me honoring the present moment. That it is, or was, never as bad as I thought, or think. It is also the observation of the destruction between the end and beginnings that bring life, emotion, friends, family and love full circle.

I’m okay – even when I stand in the darkest place. The realization that I am who I am. Not bad or good, but Human. One who makes mistakes, tries to correct his path, one who believes in his journey, filled with good and grace. Certainly better than I thought I was or think I am. Fear is the anticipation of the uncertain end, of failure. It is an emotion that can hide the wonderful experiences of wind and rain…of snow and sand…of waves and the breeze that brushes across my face here on the mountain….it is life itself…this is exactly what I’m supposed to feel.

Head in the direction that makes you feel….well…..like you feel. To hell with people that tell you how to feel. When you are happy, be happy and angry, be angry. Don’t apologize unless you want to, unless the apology is real, flows from deep within and is who you are. Don’t pay attention or give heed to others – live your life the way you want. Surrender. Let it go. It’s going to be okay. I promise.

I simply want and need to stay out of my own way.

The summer is slipping by. It’s August ….fall will be here on the mountain before we know it. Snowbird Mountain Lodge is prepped…ready for it. School in Robbinsville started back yesterday and football season starts soon. Elizabeth is now enjoying her sophomore year. She made me smile as I took her to school. She was thankful that she was no longer a freshman – now a member of the “upper” classmen and in being so reminded me………

of all of the things I am Grateful for. I am so very thankful and my blessings continue to be counted. I am once again at peace…perhaps because I surrendered.

The sun is coming up now. Time to get Elizabeth up and headed in the right direction. Coffee. Then, I think I’ll head into the woods…to listen to the trees and wind…perhaps to even feel the rain. You’ll be there with me. In every leaf, every drop of tumbling water in the creek, in every footstep you’ll be with me…and I welcome your presence, your voice, your laughter…even if it’s only in my mind. Thank you for sharing the journey with me.

I continue to celebrate the great Adventure ahead!

Peace, Love & Light

Robert Rankin

Innkeeper, Adventurer & Explorer

Moments and Memories

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I sat on the swing overlooking the mountains….Listening to the sounds of the evening, taking sips of my drink and listening to the one seated next to me…I felt the this place once again. In that space, over dinner, laughter, conversation, sharing lives and stories…..it is moments like that that make up memories……

My mother has a favorite saying – “Robert, you drink in life in giant gulps”. I always smile when I think about her saying it. IMG_4328Once I finally understood and became aware of how I was taking life in big gulps I refocused myself on all of the smaller…seemingly insignificant happenings that go on around me every day. The way the hummingbird lit on the feeder that evening, the way your gaze met mine as the conversation went deeper, the feel of the breeze as it brushed across my cheek on the porch, the way the dogs nuzzled up for a pat so they wouldn’t be left out. Those are seemingly the moments of everyday life and yet, sometimes I take it all for granted, but when I’m able to focus on them, to slow down and pause, those magical moments are created.

I was blessed to have one of them this week. These are the times that help sustain us. They are the memories that carry us forward for years and years. In particular I find these moments are the ones that I never want to end. It’s like reading a great book or seeing a fabulous movie. When I turn the last page or the screen goes dark and find myself saying, “wait, that can’t be it, it can’t be IMG_4133over!” It’s those times that I find myself wanting to know more….that is where memories are created, the places and times that we never want to forget. I was reminded that intimacy is never purely physical. It’s about the connection on deeper levels, a looking and caressing of each others soul…it’s about trust, truth and life. Theses are the seconds, minutes, hours or days where we are surrounded by the “magic” It can be a place, a person(s) or both where and when they happen, but oh when they do…..well…that carries us forever….

I once read that there was a difference between moments and memories and the illustration used went something like this…While we ate dinner on September 1, 2004, we actually don’t know what we had – this is a moment, we know ate, we just can’t recall what. When we can specifically recall an “event” in our mind and recreate it exactly….like a wedding…that is a memory…those are what creates the times that we won’t forget. As my father has gotten older and more forgetful his memories have become more pronounced and more powerful for him, but after that night this week in a conversation we had on the phone he reminded me “The best portion of life is in those small nameless moments you spend smiling with something or someone that matters to you”…to be honest I think it’s true for all of us. It’s when time stands still in those moments that look suspiciously like ordinary life to others that our memories are created.

When the night came to an end I found myself wanting more. I wandered out the front door, 2015-04-20 21-30-37 -0400down the drive and then up to the house, the dogs trailing behind. I stood outside, gazed at the stars and watched as the full moon drifted across the night sky. Fully intending to go to bed, I sat on my porch instead, lit the fire and gave thanks. For the day. For the night. For the moment. For the connection. For the depth. For the openness. For giving. Like all of us, I have no idea what the future holds, but I am really looking forward to it. And of this I’m sure, we’ll create more memories and certainly have more moments, but that night…oh….that night, I created a memory that will be in my mind for a long, long time…….

                                     Thank you.

Robert Rankin

                                                                  Innkeeper, Explorer & Adventurer