Even in the depths of winter, I cannot stop remembering the splendid colors of Appalachian autumn. The slanting light reveals an almost infinite variety of shades: pale yellow to brilliant gold, oranges that shine with incandescent fire, and reds that shade from delicate rose to strawberry to hues as deep as wine.
The trees are bare now, but the leaves aren’t gone: They lie piled up on the forest floor, still blazing if mostly unnoticed.
And in a similar way, there are so many incredible characters, true heroes, sharing the day-to-day life of these dear mountains, igniting the lives of others with their passionate intensity, even as they move among us more or less anonymously.
Not long ago, I met Lisa Greene, an ophthalmologist with a tireless smile. This lovely lady works from sun to sun—but not with an eye toward becoming wealthy or achieving the so-called American dream, that ceaseless and purposeless buying. Instead, Lisa saves up and travels throughout the Americas to places where extreme misery is people’s daily bread.
Along with some other remarkable professional friends, she offers thousands of people in remote places a chance to get their eyes checked and receive a pair of donated, hand-me-down glasses. As a recycling project, OneSight is admirable. But beyond that, it’s a way to share the miracle of sight—enabling others to encounter life more fully, and empowering children to read and study as they seek to achieve their dreams.
Robbie Williams is another local marvel, a petite, delicate woman with eyes that window heaven when it comes to mercy, transparency, love and joyous giving. She sings with the power and strength of the Spirit that sustains her, sharing her life with many youngsters. Pointing them toward a higher vision of themselves, one step at a time, she definitely makes a difference.
Thinking of the power of Spirit makes me think of the First Baptist Church of Weaverville, a small group of families and noble elders who work as one—silently, consistently and fervently, with joyful smiles. Like a wonderful family, they serve those who are marginalized in the community—the unprotected ones, the widows, the homeless and those confined to a hospital bed or suffering at home. They visit these people and break bread with them, as well as sharing the Bread of Life; loving and praying go hand in hand with sharing material goods and consoling hugs.
This marvelous church has embraced my own family, too, with open arms. They have knelt to pray for us and shared their bread; they have cried over our losses and celebrated our successes with us.
I’ve also had the privilege of meeting Mark Siler, a tall man with reddish hair and blue eyes who works as a prison chaplain, bringing freedom, peace and hope to that somber place. His smile is deep and frank, and he sees the good in everyone he meets.
And then there’s Jim McCoy. Always ready to listen and learn, he sees the Creator in every perfect detail of a flower, or in the sudden friend that God has strategically placed in his path. Jim’s a magnificent singer, teacher and writer, but his devotion to service surpasses all these gifts.
At this point, however, I simply must mention Mr. Russell Hilliard, “The Quixote of the Blue Ridge Mountains.” A true gentleman, he’s traveled throughout Buncombe County and beyond helping people with every sort of need imaginable: impossible cases, mothers with feverish children, men in diverse trouble, the young in search of answers, parents seeking jobs.
Although he’s no immigration expert, his heart is like a great book, full of wisdom. And his watch doesn’t stop at registering time: Its minutes are devotion, its seconds are giving. He’s a friend to everyone, a lover of life itself, of trees and the environment, passionate about true politics, justice and equality; passionate about human beings. And although he’s a poet, his life is not about the poetry he writes but about the many people who’ve been transmuted into poems through the workings of his compassionate heart.
How many teachers dedicate more time to students than what the schedule calls for? How many know that teaching and learning extend beyond the classroom walls? How many look for solutions to situations that prevent children from excelling in school? Surely there are many, and I’ve met one of them: Chris Cutshall, a guide and provider of timely information who equips her students with the tools they need to communicate effectively. Come what may, she models enthusiasm, facing life with a smile.
Even in winter, this amalgam of colors, of energies, blends life into a masterpiece, harmonizing our diverse community in a radical way. Amid the spare December landscape, the precious life force flickers, yearning for the moment when it will rouse itself and awaken once again.
Each of us is an essential piece of this sacred landscape. Now is the season of hope, so get busy painting, spreading your own bright colors. And remember: Serving in Love, all things are possible.
[Carmen Alicia Moncayo was born in Quito, Ecuador.]