Gorgeous! Stecoah Gap, just one of the places where the Appalachian Trail crosses a major, that is, actual two lane road[!] somewhere in the backsides of the beyonds in one of the three counties of my parish. Within living memory, what is today a two hour trip here, say, from the greater metropolitan Asheville, would take, back in the day, many days or even a week or two of grueling travel on a one lane, merely oil sprayed gravel road everywhere destroyed by tree roots bringing it up and pot holes and total washouts bringing it down. Even in my tenure at this parish in our own time I learned the advantages of carrying a chainsaw with me, having used it on seven different occasions to remove trees from the roads in the middle of nowhere with no cellphone signal available. Three different roads I travel regularly have been totally taken out with multiple landslides or have been buried with landslides. One of them, still closed, needs the entire mountainside to be secured. That’ll take a good year or so.
Visiting priests tell me that they appreciate the beauty. They also tell me that, in their opinion, almost no priest would ever want to be here, that is, in the imagined opinion of those straw men, about as far away as is physically possible from everything and everyone. Maybe “big” parishes have a draw, I don’t know, as in power or ladder climbing, or money, being someone. Of course, I wouldn’t want to put that judgment on my fellow priests. Those are, again, all straw men. I’m guessing that what they would really be saying is about greater opportunities for service. But what someone actually does is, of course, arbitrary, regardless of where they are. I can’t imagine not loving everything about the mystical body of Christ wherever our Lord is to be found.
At any rate, having grown up in the backsides of the beyonds in the North Woods of Minnesota I feel right at home. Here’s a google map image of my stomping grounds. Long time readers might guess that it is across this body of water that I was the target of incoming rifle fire on multiple occasions with perhaps a dozen shots or so on each occasion (all 300 yards), not far from where our entire family was shot at a half dozen times with I’m guessing just bird-shot bbs of shotguns, the distances starting at just 200 feet and ending at 350 feet, firstly in the trees above us, then right at us. The spray was then hitting us, but we were far enough away that there was no penetration. But you could feel it hit through Winter coats. My mom was hit in the head a couple of times. “Ow! Ouch!” she exclaimed. But she did have a polyester hat on, typical of that time. My dad said, “Don’t run, just keep walking really quickly.” A psychological ploy. For my part, I turned and faced our attackers, saying that I was going to go and deal with them right then and there, with no weapon. I was only twelve years old. My dad insisted that that was a really bad idea.
Hey! Just like big cities! So, where are the peripheries, in the country or in the city? Cities can be glimmering, shining. The country can be stunningly entrancing. Pope Francis speaks of the darkest of existential peripheries. Where are those?
Here’s the deal: People are the same at any time, in any place, in any culture. All need the goodness and kindness and truth of the Lord Jesus. Just like me.