The pilgrimage: reflecting on a vacation like no other

An unmarked Confederate soldiers’ burial ground located in historic Fort Donelson in Dover, TN. | Submitted photo

I’m back from a pilgrimage. I thought I was going on a simple, relaxing getaway with my husband this month, but it turned into so much more. Wikipedia defines pilgrimage as: “A journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about their self, others, nature or a higher good through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.”

Our first stop was Land Between the Lakes, a swath of wilderness straddling western Kentucky into Tennessee. Aside from its natural beauty, there’s much history there. During the Civil War, the Confederacy built Fort Donelson, now Fort Donelson National Battlefield, to defend the supply “highway” of the Cumberland River. It fell to the Union in 1862. Many young men — boys really — on both sides died. I prayed silently at the battlefield where the Confederate boys were buried without markers, and over the graves of the Union boys in the National Cemetery. It was a time in history pitting brother against brother, friend against friend. I recalled this quote from Jesus there: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” Matthew 12:25.

We made a stop in Rosine, Kentucky, to pay homage to musician Bill Monroe (1911-1996) and known to many as “The Father of Blue Grass Music.” Uncle Pen’s cabin was first up. Bill was orphaned young, and his Uncle Pen took him in and nurtured Bill’s talent. They did plenty of porch sittin’ and pickin’. There was no electricity then, so there were few distractions. Uncle Pen played the fiddle and Bill the mandolin. We later visited the Bill Monroe Museum and enjoyed learning about Monroe’s life in music. There was even a display connecting him to Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead! Though Monroe garnered international fame, he never forgot his humble roots.

Owensboro, Kentucky, was our next stop to visit The Blue Grass Music Hall of Fame Museum. There’s a picking parlor front and center, where anyone can pick up an instrument and give it a whirl. After learning more about Monroe, we realized how evident his influence was in hundreds of musicians who’ve followed in his footsteps. Monroe himself paid homage to the musical influences that developed his style: “Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin.’ It’s Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It’s blues and jazz, and it has a high, lonesome sound.” A melting pot, like our country.

Back in Indiana, we made an unscheduled stop at the Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home National Memorial. It was humbling to see the rough circumstances in which our 16th president grew up. Thankfully, he had the love of a mother who taught him to read, and a stepmother who continued encouraging his thirst for knowledge. Thank God for mothers.

A night at the guesthouse at the St. Meinrad Archabbey was quiet and restful. We had a simple room and attended prayer services, where we listened to the plaintive chanting of the monks. Peace that passeth understanding permeated every moment there.

Our trip concluded with lunch in Loogootee with cousins I rarely get to see. Then, a short visit to McCormick’s Creek State Park, where my mother taught me to love nature, and lastly, to Bloomington for dinner with a dear friend, the icing on the cake for such a special trip. I have wonderful memories of growing up in Bloomington, and we both loved and reminisced of our college days at IU.

We’re back to daily life now, but it was a vacation like no other; a journey filled with meaning and unexpected growth.

Sharon Mangas is a Columbus resident and can be reached at sharo[email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].