Published: Jun 19, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jun 19, 2012 05:33 PM
I am preparing to walk 120 miles over a period of six days in northern New Mexico to El Santuario de Chimayo.
I do this pilgrimage in June through the religious nonprofit School of the Pilgrimage. For the third time I will walk many miles to the 400 year-old adobe structure that houses sacred earth, giving many people of faith some hope when faced with spiritual, physical, mental or emotional challenges. Crutches and Santos (crucifixes) cover the mud-brown walls as testimony to the healing properties of this place throughout the centuries.
What draws me to do an actual pilgrimage is a vast array of reasons. I rise to the physical challenge as I age, walking long distances in a relatively short number of days. I enjoy being the lone white Presbyterian who speaks lousy Spanish among my brothers who are Hispanic and/or Indian Catholic Americans, and speak primarily Spanish as their first language. I take mental pictures of houses, crucifixes, people, churches, roadways, mountains, and the desert with attempts to remember them once I return to the hot, humid, green summers of North Carolina. I pray the rosary, chant prayers, and sing songs in Spanish that trip up my tongue easily. I go on pilgrimage and wonder: Where have I been, where am I going, and what is the path before me?
As I walk and drive around Chapel Hill-Carrboro, I often ponder this question as I watch the workers around the new 140 W. Franklin St. mixed-use development, the tall Greenbridge complex, and the large new structure rising out of the ground on East Main Street in Carrboro.
This is Chapel Hill and Carrboros future: an urban center, with plans for other large structures to join Granville Towers and the complex of sprawling buildings on UNCs campus. More people and more businesses are moving here, wanting to catch a fading memory of what Carolina meant to them as a student, drawn to the mythic Southern part of heaven. As our cities move inexorably forward, the past fades, soon forgotten. Perhaps what is needed is a yearly community pilgrimage for people to remember the good and the uglier parts of the past (so as not to repeat it), and pause in the present in order to move forward as citizens united on our future, and not divided.
Currently, there are several tours that take place in our area: young students take prospective students on a journey around Carolinas campus daily. Theres the Black and Blue Tour, looking at the university and towns racial history. And some visit beautiful old homes around the university during the winter holidays.
On the yearly community pilgrimages, people walk and visit the places, people, and other landmarks that may no longer exist, remembering the significance of Chapel Hill and Carrboros story. Starting near Carrboros Town Hall we walk along Weaver Street, reminiscing about the workers houses, which later became part of our Bohemian past, where all kinds of artists could previously afford cheap housing. We walk up to Carr Mill, a working mill, and then walk to Lincoln High School and up to the Pine Knolls/Northside neighborhoods and Midway Business areas, lighting candles in memorial to the once-strong African American community that lived and served the university.
Gone are some of the beautiful old homes that graced Franklin Street as we head east, along with gas stations and other notable hangouts for students in the 1950-70s. Franklin Street reminds us of the gay city leader Joe Herzenberg who strode this street, along with women who demonstrated for the Equal Rights Amendment. Communist sympathizers used to meet in parts of the Intimate bookstore. For a minute we stop at the Peace and Justice Plaza, remembering the Freedom Riders, and the past when the university was only admitting young white men. We conclude at Chapel of the Cross, which claims its chapel gave Chapel Hill its name.
The hope for such a yearly trek? To remember where we came from and where we are, reminding us as we go forward that cities are more than buildings. They are composed of strong diverse communities where all should be welcome, encouraged to thrive, and bring out the best in one another. As we consider and begin implementing some of the aspects of the recent Chapel Hill 2020 visioning, lets always strive to remember who all made our present, and futures, possible.