Driving into the verdant green hills and mansions of Nashville from the poverty of Stone County, Arkansas was a shock to my senses. I found myself judging the wealth and wondering who was leading the better life, who was happier, the poor or the rich? My new-found, easy-going mountain friends were singing in my soul, and the contrasting, brick, two-story forbidding beauty of Nashville’s homes made me ache with the inequality of it all. But I continue to meet intriguing people unexpectedly around every corner and as the first part of my trip seemed to be about falling in love with nature again, this section I am discovering the depth of courage, beauty, and soul in human beings.
The Frist Art Museum in downtown Nashville solidified this process in the Gee’s Bend quilt exhibit and the art of Thorton Dial. The quilts were sewn by the women in one of the poorest counties in the nation in Alabama, using recycled, worn-out clothing. Thorton Dial’s art is also from found objects and portrays his roots of being raised in poverty and racism without the benefit of education. I was stunned by the deep creativity I saw reverberating in that museum. It confirmed yet again that everyone has talent and something extraordinary to share no matter what their economic state or educational prowess. The heart of humanity shines through. You certainly don’t have to be smart, educated and privileged to do something meaningful and worthwhile.
In Nashville I stayed with an old friend. She gave up her amazingly comfortable bed to me and slept on the couch, drove me hither and yon acting as the most patient tour guide, risked life and limb to walk me over the pedestrian bridge to see the downtown lights at 1:30am, let me sleep late, treated me to meals, sneakily made my bed, and showered me with thoughtful parting gifts.
One evening she had a family party to attend and I was off to explore downtown on my own. She recommended a restaurant so after exploring the old Union Station, now a hotel, and a few honky-tonks I went to Jack’s BBQ and stood at the end of a long line. A man was in front of me looking back for some friends he thought were with him. Finally he said, “Well, I guess I’m eating alone tonight, I lost my friends.” I countered with an assuring, “ah, that’s not a big deal I’m eating alone too!” He responded with a resounding “Well, then we should have dinner together!” We chatted away like old friends, he was from Chicago and gave me tips on things to see when I go through his town. He was in Nashville for a yearly get-together with his college buddies (who finally showed up at the restaurant and joined us at a large table). I adore these chance meetings with exuberant people willing to share expertise and laughter with a stranger. The spirit of adventure seems to be invading every part of my trip and I never want it to end!
My friend Debbie was meeting me after her party down the street at a yummy ice cream shop. While we were catching up a man sauntered in looking like something out of a magazine. I have always admired men willing to make a statement with unique clothing choices and I smiled at him and just had to say, “nice ensemble” in my best french accent. Through this one comment we all ended up sharing stories, finding work in common and heading to Printer’s Alley to a blues club! I got to walk around the streets of Nashville with the best dressed man in town. You would be so jealous if I had only taken his picture. And of course he danced with me, so that made him even cooler. On our way back to the car Debbie and I walked over a bridge with a lovely view of downtown, the air was warm, the lights were magic and I was happy.
The next morning I was up early to explore Cheekwood Estate. It is a 100 acres of gardens and art with a mansion built by the Maxwell Coffee baron. I was dying to get outside and walk so I hit the woodland sculpture trail in the remote recesses behind the stone mansion. It was just what I needed, woods, solitude, art, a contemplative time of using my imagination and feeding my soul. There was a glass bridge, rabbit sculptures, oversized chairs to sit on and dangle your feet off the ground like a kid,
a room built to sit in and look up through a large round circle in the ceiling to reflect on the heavens. It was like looking at a globe and the poem “To see the the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower…” burst into my consciousness. I was alive with song, poetry and dreams, happy with being me. That is something that keeps coming up for me, being deliriously happy with just being me, without hanging my esteem on my job or kids or family, but just on me, stripped of all else.
My last night in Nashville was spent boisterously eating Italian food family style at communal tables at Mangia, a little restaurant a short drive out of Nashville. Debbie had made reservations ahead as it is a popular evening event. Our table of six was informed by the delightful waitress that we would be getting “a lot of food so pace yourselves.” The warning was definitely needed as we had dish after dish brought to the table and heartily passed around. We had wonderful conversations with our table-mates about travel and life journeys, yelling over the noisy music and cheesy singing by the waiters, chefs and patrons. I could have done without the conga-line dancing but the food and atmosphere at our table was worth enduring the over-the-top silliness of the rest. The couple to my left were so delightful as to keep me laughing all evening and I smile to myself still at my great fortune to spend an evening in their presence.
Isn’t life crazy? I continue to meet wonderful people, REALLY wonderful people. Just as I left Nashville and hit the freeway for Atlanta my phone rings and it is James (motorcycle guy from my last post) calling me from the 81st birthday party of a darling man I met in Mountain View. The whole town is asking after me wondering where I am. It seems that I got under their skin as much as they got under mine. I am changed, I am renewed, I am still extremely grateful. I recite a quote I saw chiseled on a stone bench in the sculpture park…
“In a dream you saw a way to survive
and you were full of joy.”