The world of Lynchburg, Virginia cannot be tasted in its fullness by simply dipping a ladle into its hot, dark depths and drawing out what we will.
To capture it, truly, we’d have to eat the whole thing.
But where to begin?
A Christian college resides there. And the college named after the city itself. There are also a great many churches, one once attached to the Christian college like an extra arm. Or the original rib that sprouted a whole new creature. Lots of residential neighborhoods sprinkle the outskirts of the city, and it is lined in blue mountains, but the core… that is music.
Downtown, past L. Oppleman’s thrift store windows stuffed with gold-gilded silverware and eyeless manikins…past leather-chair restaurants with hurricane lamps…past spouting fountains near a children’s art museum and giant metal rainbow bugs that college kids climb…past the Depot Grille exhaling good greasy smells that trains whip away… there. Right there. A breathing underbelly of culture rages in the black night.
It pulses with a heartbeat formed of toms and chains, tambos and cymbals shattered by wooden sticks. If you place your feet just right, you’ll move with the bass to some ethereal low region of your gut and of the world. It is dark there too, warm and red. I am alive with the bass, you say, and you soak the spicy smells of craft brew and hand-tossed pizza into your clothes for tasting later. Later: in a dream or a regret or a wish that you tie to a star, for the wish may last as long as your eternity or someone else’s, just as the star wraps you to yourself, your dancing friends who pulse with the bass like you, your long-lost sibling once over seas, now below the earth, and some soul you’ve never met. You are never to be satisfied except in the God you believe in, but somehow not like many others believe, the angry others, the foggy-eyed others, the others with frozen smiles. God isn’t everywhere in all unhallowed earth things, but right now he must be here, hearing this, you think. And drop by drop, your soul fills up, glassfuls within you collecting bass in blood.
Here, we hike. Here, we canoe and jump bridges. Here, we wear holey jeans bought in Goodwill raids. Here, we rock sock buns, pierce left nostrils. Here, we symbolize ourselves in Bible languages and, somewhere skinward, hide the words in ink. Here, we eat so-so food until you Get Downtown. And there, the hipsters formerly known as hipsters live.
Here, we slave over books with broken spines and sigh with enlightened minds. We line literary blogs with pixelated 1950s photos and quote Plathean platitudes. We wear Toms smelling of train tracks and red clay. We beat paths to coffeeshops, weep when they close their doors, and then fundraise them back to life again. We spraypaint cement with song and salvation and solutions and bury our fingers in good dirty earth on urban riverbanks. We cry ourselves awake in words fit to madden a poet’s mind and write about it in mini Moleskines. We love, laugh, listen.
And then we dance.
Will we, children of the ‘burg so to speak, ever quite capture it? Lynchburg, our generation, the world as it is now? Perhaps not. Perhaps never. Perhaps only from far far away can we trace our city’s face with feeble fingers and begin to feel it truly.
lonesome, enmeshed, thwarted.
Like it’s breathing.
full of itself, radiant, young.
Like it’s about to sing.