Prologue to “Ohio” (2nd installment of 2 parts)

A lover of all things Jeffersonian—Chris vociferously shared his indignation—if not outrage—at the “improvements” to the architecture employed by Jefferson in that part of the Academic Village where we stood. When he pointed out the changes and explained things to this architectural-clueless-newbie (me) I could see his points were well-taken.

Chris has made a study of Jefferson and Hemming and adamantly adheres to two convictions—(1.) Jefferson’s entire life was an on-going experiment in numerous of the arts and sciences. He spent his entire life questioning, looking beyond what was and reaching into the shadows to find the next bit of enlightenment. In other words he was a seeker—someone wanting to gain understanding and alleviate suffering. And (2.)  his relationship with the beautiful and sophisticated Sally Hemming was not the story of a powerful white slave-owner’s abuse and exploitation of a completely vulnerable human being. It was nothing less than the deepest of love affairs.

Chris explained that, while Sally was in France where slavery was outlawed, she had the choice to remain there as a free woman or return to the United States as a slave. She chose to return to the U.S. with Jefferson. What could be more about searching, alleviation of suffering and the provision of purpose, than love? Chris also reminded me Sally was Jefferson’s first wife’s half-sister and bore a strong resemblance. In Cheryl’s life-odyssey you will notice a similar theme of meeting people who resemble significant others and/or people who stand apart from the normal flow of human encounters–people who are profoundly different from others for no reason that is immediately apparent.

Chris commented at knowledgeable length on the life and genius of Jefferson—the man and the myth. Chris’s considerable learning and his own love-affair with Hemming and Jefferson made for an engaging and educational half-hour.

I didn’t want to keep him from his family (one of whom initially called to me) who were sitting nearby in lawn chairs and chatting, so I continued my search for Cheryl–but without much luck it seemed–in those moments.

I noticed a girl about the same age as Cheryl—setting up refreshments for UVa Alumni attending the re-union. I watched her for a few seconds, as she took soft drinks from cartons and plunged them into large coolers of ice. Her back was to me—she was never aware of my presence. I felt no connection—just awkward and foolish standing there—an old man watching a young woman pushing drinks into ice. I quickly moved on.

I stopped a few moments to take in the beautiful UVa chapel—to pause and reflect in the stained-glass silence—then hiked back to my truck at the eastern edge of campus parked under green southern Pin Oaks moving heavily in the humid Virginia  breeze.

The drive from UVa to my home takes you through beautiful Virginia countryside—winding roads through hilly forests—and right past the entrance to Monticello—Jefferson’s home, which is actually about 20 minutes from my house.

I had left home earlier in the day looking for Cheryl but found Sally. I have to wonder if there’s a connection—could Cheryl be a descendant of Sally’s? Maybe the blood of one of this nation’s greatest presidents and his beautiful mistress pulses through Cheryl’s veins.

Is there a parallel or metaphor here? Does Cheryl’s searching journey through American darkness and her encounters with love and death, savage conflict and spiritual transcendence, echo the beautiful and tragic Jefferson-Hemming story?

These are extraordinary tales—Jefferson and Hemming’s—the fictitious Cheryl—and the 200 year-plus story of this nation. Implied (if not described) here is a uniquely American obsession with journey, discovery and innovation but also of the uniquely human quest for love, purpose and in overcoming evils such as slavery and racism—the alleviation of suffering.

And as for meaning—it may be that the search itself gives our lives meaning.

To be continued…

END 2nd installment.

End “Ohio Prologue” piece

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