My second visit was on July 9, 2018, for a memorial ceremony beginning at 7:20AM, exactly 100 years after the moment of the crash. I was moved to hear stories from descendants of the victims and to participate by reading the name of an individual who had perished.
I first visited this spot during a historical tour commemorating the Great Train Wreck of 1918, in which more than 100 people were killed, when two trains collided at the area known as “Dutchman’s Curve.” At that time, I noticed some bass swimming in Richland Creek and resolved to return and try my luck.
The next time I visited Dutchman’s Curve, I brought a fishing rod and took a few casts but wasn’t successful. I was walking back to the Richland Creek Greenway when I got the call about Joe. I learned that Joe had taken his own life the night before. He was a psychologist and a friend and colleague. I had been his clinical supervisor a few years prior, when he was doing his internship in Nashville.
Some time passed and I returned to this spot at the convergence of Richland Creek and Dutchman’s Curve. This time I caught a smallmouth bass. I released the fish, but it had been injured in the fight and struggled to swim away. I don’t think it survived. That’s when I actually started feeling the grief: for Joe, and for the fish I’d probably killed, and for Joe’s orphaned clients, for his family, and for myself.
I came again, this time without a fishing rod. Fishing there felt wrong now. On that visit, I met a man who appeared to have some psychotic symptoms, as he was engaged in conversation with someone who wasn’t obviously there. I had a brief and pleasant conversation with the man. “Something always happens when I come here,” I thought. And I realized I had begun visiting this place, where so much death had occurred, as a ritual to pay my respects and to reflect about Joe. On the next visit, the psychotic man was there again, and he got into an argument with an actual, seemingly sane man. Rather, the “sane” man started the argument, accusing the “insane” one of rudeness and of being crazy, yet it was the supposedly normal person storming away, screaming curses into the air.
I wondered what strange or unexpected event would happen on my next visit. My mind was occupied with thoughts of my two troubled clients. I thought of them the entire time I lingered there, when I watched the fish in the creek and climbed up the stone remnants of an historic railroad bridge. As I was leaving, I realized that I hadn’t thought of Joe once, which seemed notable, but even more significant was the realization that I had been thinking about his orphaned clients, who I now see in my therapy practice. This was progress, and yet another meaningful visit.
I came back again, wondering what other discovery or strange event might occur now. Only so much can happen in one place. As I climbed up the stone steps, I saw the rock. “Courage is Contagious” it claimed. Imagine that message landing in this place! Did Joe need courage? Am I showing courage? If I’m courageous with my clients, will it spread to them? Yes, it will. Should I show the courage to climb farther up this old stone bridge? It would afford an even better view of this hallowed place. I decided not to on this trip. I was a bit shaky from discovering this mantra on a rock, and the rocks and hill were slippery from recent rains. I left it there and headed home.
On my most recent visit, the “Courage is Contagious” rock was still there. There had been some thunderstorms, and debris had washed up from the creek. The rock had fallen on its side. I picked it up and read the message on the back. I stuck it in a pocket and climbed all the way up the old bridge. The #rockmantra now resides in my office where I do therapy, spreading courage to those who need it.