just beyond the bridge

Written by Christie Purifoy

Christie Purifoy writes at an old desk in the parlor of a Victorian farmhouse called Maplehurst. After earning a PhD in English literature from the University of Chicago, she traded the university classroom for a large kitchen garden and a henhouse in southeastern Pennsylvania. When the noise of her four young children makes writing impossible, she tends zucchini and tomatoes her children will later refuse to eat. The zucchini-loving chickens are perfectly happy with this arrangement. The chickens move fast and the baby crawls even faster, but Christie is always watching for the beauty, mystery and wonder that lie beneath it all.

November 4, 2013

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Photo by Kelli Campbell

I live in a landscape made for ghost stories.

The weeping willow tree has turned the color of a copper penny. When fog curls around the trunk, I half believe the headless horseman will pass by.

Perhaps the bright sunshine of summer washes out shades from the past. Or, perhaps my mind has been turned by pumpkin carving and costume making. Whatever the explanation, now that it is fall, I feel as if shadowy figures move just at the edge of sight.

There is an old farmhouse down the road. Hessian soldiers once camped on those fields as they marched to join the redcoats. I swear I have seen their faded muskets between the trees.

The practical Quakers who first settled here built their stone houses right up against the roads. It would have been wasteful to give up any of their cultivated land for the vanity of a front yard. Now when I slow to a stop at every four-way crossing, I feel as if the ghost of a silent Quaker housewife is watching from her parlor window.

In autumn this countryside of old stone walls, covered bridges, and somber Amish horse-drawn buggies works a subtle change in me.

We live so much of our lives in places that seem to have no past. I find it nearly impossible to believe in death while crossing a vast parking lot or standing beneath the fluorescent lights of a warehouse store. But here, where the sign on a neighbor’s farm says 1732 and the plaque on a spreading oak tree at the edge of our property is dated a hundred years before that, it is as if we still share these fields with those who lived and left so long ago.

Pagan storytellers claimed the wall between life and death becomes thin this time of year. The church may have recognized some truth in these stories when it called the body to remember all saints and all souls.

I am not sure if this season is truly different, or whether it is all a trick of this low autumn light, but when I notice a spray of golden leaves at the end of a long country road, it seems to mark a doorway. I can imagine reaching out and brushing aside a narrow curtain of fog. There, just on the edge of this everyday world, is a gathering of the departed and the One who called them home. They are so near.

And I wonder if my life might be different if I were to forget the lies of concrete and fluorescent light. I wonder what might change if I stopped more often to feel the nearness of the past and remember the swiftness of a lifespan.

What if I lived as if a great cloud of witnesses were as close as the sunlight beckoning from the other end of the covered bridge?

What if I lived as if each day brought me closer to that Light?

16 Comments

  1. Constance Ann Morrison

    There’s hubris involved in thinking the way things are is they way they always have been and always will be. Thanks, Christie, for the reminder about time’s thin veil. It’s harder to keep up the pretense of immortality at this time of year.

    May God bless your writing and help you to find time to write (sometimes hard to do with young children).

    from a real-life Quaker housewife reading you from my kitchen desk

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you, Constance! I’m so grateful this morning for your blessing and your beautiful words.

      Reply
  2. kelli woodford

    Oh, girl. I feel it, too. What is it about that low autumn light that opens portals connecting us with those who have gone before … and reminding us of our own mortality?

    I love where you took this, though. To hope. To light. To death, but no – THROUGH death to what is stronger.

    Thank you, Christie. Masterfully done.

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      Yes, I love remembering that death is not the end. Rather, it is a door. Sometimes I need to strain for a peek beyond it, just to remind myself how good God’s story is.

      Reply
  3. Ashley Tolins Larkin

    Christie, I love how you tell this story — unafraid of entering into the mystery because you know the one greater. Thank you for celebrating history and seasons and light here. The metaphor of the sunlight beckoning from the other side of the bridge is deep and lovely, too, friend.

    Reply
  4. Shelly Miller

    Christie, this is the passage I read from Buechner that was a sacred echo of your thoughts here: “Who know what “the communion of the saints” means, but surely it means more than just that we are all of us haunted by ghosts because they are not ghosts, these people we once knew, not just echoes of voices that have years since ceased to speak, but saints in the sense that through them something of the power and richness of life itself not only touched us once long ago, but continues to touch us.” I love your writing, it always moves to a beautiful place of longing for more of Jesus. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      I’m writing this one down, Shelly. That quotation is one to remember. Beautiful.

      Reply
  5. Summer

    Christie, I met a little boy who grew up in an Eastern Orthodox Church with pictures of the saints all over the walls. When he visited grandparents at a nondenominational church, his parents found him wandering around the front of the church repeating, “where is everybody?” Your story of the thin veil reminded me of our loneliness for the saints known and unknown. As always, your prose sets me right in the middle of the mystery, my dear! Blessings, Friend!

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      Oh, I love this, Summer! Such a precious story. It encapsulates so well what I’ve been feeling this autumn. Where is everybody? Just beyond the bridge and toward the light. Not far at all, really.

      Reply
  6. Kris Camealy

    Wow. This piece glows, Christie. I love to imagine the communion of the saints, and I look forward to one day, sitting at that table, on the other side of the veil.

    Your writing sings, my friend.

    Reply
  7. Kathy Owens

    I find myself living out these days the truth in your words. I am on the journey to the end of their lives with my mom and dad and I find myself remembering the past more often, and yet also bearing witness to the swiftness of days. And I agree, it is good for us to be sensitive to the fragility of life, for in that knowledge we can truly sense the nearness of God. Thanks for these beautiful words, Christie.

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you for sharing your experience and hard-earned wisdom, Kathy. I love that you say it’s in the knowledge of life’s fragility we can sense the nearness of God. What a beautiful, hard truth. Thank you.

      Reply
  8. Shelly Wildman

    Christie, your writing touches me in the deepest of places. Thank you for taking the time to find just the right words to minister to my soul.

    Reply
  9. Amy Kannel

    poignant, haunting, beautiful.

    This reminds me of something a pastor-friend said a while back. He was lamenting that churches and graveyards no longer go together. We’ve sanitized the cemetery and relegated it to the edge of town. My friend pointed out that way back when, if you had to walk through the graveyard every week when you went to church, you’d think about eternity a whole lot more.

    For a whole host of reasons (increased life expectancy, decreased child mortality rate) death feels further from me than it was from my ancestors. I’m thankful that far fewer people I have known and loved have died during my first 30 years of life–but such blessing also makes death and the realities of eternity feel far-off and surreal. Oh, to live by what I *know* to be true instead of what I feel…

    Reply
    • Christie Purifoy

      Such good words, Amy. Thank you. For the first time in my life, I attend a church with an old, old cemetery just outside the doors. You are right. It makes a difference. An important one.

      Reply
  10. pastordt

    Oh, I love this! I can see that mist and that shining shock of golden leaves. And I love All Saints’ Sunday – wrote about it this week, actually. Thank you for these beautiful musings, Christie. Delightful to see you here.

    Reply

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just beyond the bridge

by Christie Purifoy time to read: 3 min
16