The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Crosses Abound

Dear Diane and I prefer to drive rather than fly whenever we travel around this beautiful country of ours. For me this is one of the major benefits of retirement, the ability to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. And because we're rarely constrained by deadlines, we often avoid the interstates and other major highways and instead travel along the nation's "blue highways," those sometimes scenic, but always interesting, back roads that connect the farms, ranches, and small towns of America, one with another. (Blue Highways, by the way, is the title of a fascinating book written a few decades ago by a man with the most unlikely name, William Least Heat-Moon. It's worth a read.)

Postcard View of Myrtle Beach
On these trips, one day's travel almost never exceeds 300 miles. This allows us to stop whenever we're surprised by a place or a sight that simply cannot be ignored. Not long ago, for example, we spent a long weekend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a place neither of us had ever visited. (It was actually a freebie, one of those weekends they give away if you agree to sit through an hour of a high-pressure condo sales pitch.) Our expectations bore little resemblance to the reality we encountered. I had expected a southern version of the small town on Cape Cod in which we'd lived for 25 years. What a surprise! The Myrtle Beach that accosts the tourist consists of several miles of beachfront packed with high rise condos, glitzy and not so glitzy hotels, T-shirt shops, and a seemingly infinite number of eating establishments. Within a day of our arrival we both realized that this city, devoted almost exclusively to unabashed, in-your-face tourism, was really not our cup of tea. And so instead of spending a day window shopping among the city's kitsch emporia, we decided to drive along the coast looking for that which interests us.

We spent part of the day in the lovely seaside town of Georgetown, SC, where we enjoyed a delightful lunch in a quiet waterfront restaurant. After lunch I satisfied my penchant for naval history when I wandered into a shop and bargained for and bought several exquisite models of Civil War ships. We also visited Hopsewee Plantation, toured the grounds and the antebellum home, and enjoyed tea and scones in the plantation's tearoom.

It was a marvelous day, and as we and our trusty TomTom GPS navigated the backroads of South Carolina, we encountered many public crosses. Some simply stood along the edge of a farmer's field where they'd be visible from the road. Occasionally we'd come upon a clearing and be greeted by a Good Friday memorial of three large crosses, a vivid reminder of that day of redemption long ago. These crosses definitely appear more frequently in rural America, especially in the deep South, although I've also encountered them in the far West and Mid-West.

Cross at St. Augustine -- Pro-Life rally January 2008
Interestingly, Florida boasts the two tallest of America's free-standing crosses. The tallest, at 208 feet, was erected by the Diocese of St. Augustine in 1966 and stands at the mouth of the Matanzas River in St. Augustine. On the site of the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, the cross memorializes the Christian roots of our nation, when St. Augustine was settled by the Spanish in 1565. The cross is pictured above. It's really quite spectacular.

The second tallest cross isn't far from our home here in Florida. Towering over its Orlando neighborhood at 199 feet, this cross was erected a few years ago alongside a major highway by Orlando's First Baptist Church. It, too, is quite impressive.

Orlando Cross
Standing on church property, these two crosses are, at least for now, protected from the legal attacks of the ACLU and others who might find them offensive. But like the Mohave cross I discussed briefly in yesterday's post, another cross in California (photo below) might well be forced down. The Mt. Soledad Cross in La Jolla, located at the Veterans Memorial atop the mountain, has been in place since 1913. (It was rebuilt twice since then.) Because it stands on government property, it too became the subject of a contentious lawsuit that began in 1989 and still remains unresolved. Last year the U. S. Supreme Court took the cowardly, politically correct approach and refused to hear the case, tossing it back into the lap of the 9th Circuit Court, and we all know what to expect from the radical members of that august body. I hope, somehow, the cross is preserved. Back in my days as a Navy helicopter pilot, I often flew by Mt. Soledad and enjoyed the reassuring sight of that cross silhouetted against the clear, blue California sky. I'd hate to think it was no longer there.
Mt. Soledad Cross, La Jolla, California

Have you ever heard of Khachkars? No? Well, I'll tell you about them and the threat to their existence in tomorrow's post.

Pax et bonum...

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