past or passed?

We drove into Concord, Massachusetts,
and stopped at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House
where she both wrote and set Little Women,
and which, it turns out, is right down the road (Lexington Road)
from the Hawthorne House
where both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson
lived and wrote,
and where Henry David Thoreau planted an heirloom vegetable garden
on the occasion of the wedding of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne.

Now we got there late afternoon—
well after the last tours,
and both houses were closed.
Both houses were empty.
And without the tours—the tourists and the tour guides,
without any brochures, without mementos and postcards for sale,
I was struck by the fact that these houses were known for what happened—
that they were now just empty houses
with nothing but their pasts to commend them.

That’s not unimportant.
That’s some rather significant past!

But it is in marked contrast to how I think of churches—
even empty, closed churches
you might come to long after everyone’s gone home for the day—
which are still supposed to be
known as much for what’s going on as for what once did—
for a past not just remembered and honored,
but passed along from one to another to another
and still being made present.


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