Going home


“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” — Joseph Campbell

The miracle of flight never escapes me when I feel the force of take-off and that instant of realization that I am airborne. I think , “how brave and confident the pioneers of this science, that their trust in the magic of math would one day make it possible for me to be in Richmond, Virginia at noon and in my brother-in-law’s pickup truck 550 miles away in less than two hours.”

As the jet lifts off, I think of scraps of lumber in a little boy’s hands becoming convincing, if not outright flying machines; of a young man lying about his age to get a pilot’s license at the fearless age of fourteen! Considering the force that was his father, how brave indeed to work and pay for secret flying lessons until his sister “outed” him at the dinner table, resulting in my father’s family’s launch into a lifelong love of take-offs and landings. How fortunate that this love of riding the wind was passed along to me and much of my kin. But more than this heady inheritance, is the pure awe in the very fact that flight is possible and that I had the good fortune to be born to this, and in this time.

So as I make my way back home with my head literally in the clouds, I fly carrying the promise of new memories with those awaiting my arrival … and feel the loving breath of those spirits who accompany me here on the journey.

Written aboard Airtran flight #138, Richmond to Atlanta, November 14, 2012
Photo of my daddy, R. Denny Garner, at about age 5 with what would be one of many of his homemade airplanes. Small enamel pin is a painting of Daddy’s Stearman, by one of his flying buddies, Sam Lyons.

Simple gifts …

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Bookshelves at Fantastic Thrift, Richmond, Virginia

Finding a penny, a blue heron, or a hawk crossing my path, such “signs” from above or beyond never fail me when I need a boost or comfort or just some divine assurance that I am never alone, that there is something “more” and beyond my mere mortal comprehension.  My most knee-buckling “sign” however is one of song. It is uncanny how this tune seems to follow me no matter where I go or whether my mood is sheer happiness or one of heartbreak.  I know it’s popular and it always pleases me to hear it whether at weddings or funerals. Yet it is impossible to recount the numerous times I will be driving along in silent melancholy, flip on the radio and it is this song floating into my ears. It is the old Shaker Hymn “Simple Gifts.”  Just last week, I happened to mention this musical phenomenon to someone in an email and a day later, only hours after learning of the death of a very close friend, it happened again. Only this time a bit out of the ordinary. In my grief, I found myself stumbling around a thrift shop (truly, I hardly remember driving there) and as I walked past the books, I was struck dumb as the booklet you see here was lying face up on the bottom shelf.  It is an illustrated version of the song’s lyrics, very whimsical and brightly colored, and fully of silly cats! I caught my breath, snatched it up and I carried it around in my shopping basket for an hour. I eventually decided that it wasn’t for me to actually buy or have. I know the words by heart and perhaps another would benefit from its simple gift — the message to once more take heart, to not be sad but instead to be thankful for the wonders of this life and the blessings and people in it, both past and present — to be encouraged and to “Come round right.”


“Simple Gifts” was written in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett (1797–1882) while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine. These are the lyrics to his one-verse song.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.[2]