The election is over ---- now what? I really didn't want to talk about it, but maybe I will, just maybe,
just a little. I wonder if it could have something to do with Fitchburg? I hear two very different
messages in the children's story, one is about solitude and connecting with nature, the other about
working with one another and being in community. One story – 2 sermons.
Occasionally I fly to Fitchburg. How many of you have ever been to Fitchburg? I'm sure some have
driven through it on Rt. 2, maybe on your way to Maine or Boston. But who has actually gotten out of
the car in that old mill city? There are many ways to get to Fitchburg. Henry walked from Concord.
His friend took the train. Fitchburg was a thriving mill city in the 19th century. The Nashua river was a
source of power and and transportation. It thrived so much that a railroad was built between Boston
and Fitchburg and eventually to Albany. Now, you can easily drive there. I suppose some have biked
there. It's hard to fly there unless you are a pilot. I fly there once in a while because it had a decent
But why Fitchburg? Why did they want to go there? Was there a purpose? Was the journey itself the
goal? Since Henry's friend isn't given a name, I will call her Ellen. Who do you identify with? Is it
Henry, who takes a long hike to Fitchburg and communes with nature, who picks wild blackberries,
takes a swim and finds a bird nest? Or is it Ellen who does odd jobs and takes the fast train in a tangled
mess of people? I suspect there are few, if any here who can walk 30 miles in a day, fewer who would
walk 30 miles, and some of us who can't walk.
I spend a lot of time alone and in the woods. It is a place where I find peace and comfort. A time to
reflect or to just be quiet with myself. No worries, just the rustle of leaves in the wind, the sound of a
babbling brook. If I were a believer in god, this is where I would find my god. Could it be, I wonder,
from that peace and comfort, and from the insights I have gained, if I, like Terre Lopez, am able to
connect more wholly with others?
Over 20 years ago, I heard a sermon given on this pulpit titled “This is My Cathedral.” In it, the Rev.
Victoria Safford recalled how she was driving through the meadows of Northampton and came across
someone in our congregation. They chatted, and the person apologized, well not really apologized, but
talked about how she hadn't been to Sunday services in a while. She looked around and told Victoria
that this was her Cathedral. In the sermon the Rev. Safford spoke about how each of us finds our
peace, our religion, our spirituality in different ways. Some come to this Great Hall on Sunday
morning, others take long walks in the meadows, or even to Fitchburg, on their spiritual journeys.
Others may just sit on their front porch and listen to the birds. This little part of one sermon long ago
has stuck with me. I connected with it profoundly at the time, wondering about where my Cathedral is.
While I have ventured very little into the Meadows, I have my own very special spots. Where are your
Cathedrals? It might be right here where you are sitting, or it might be in some surprising places.
As the Chair of the Berkshire Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and a active hike leader, I
have been with so many people who, without using these words, find their own gods by being in the
woods, on the mountain tops, by and on the river ways, walking or just sitting along the beaches of the
ocean. It takes them away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of their lives. It gives them moments
to breath, really breath. Moments to reflect on what's important in their life. Moments to feel
themselves as part of the vastness of the universe.
A choreographer I am working with tells me that she relates mostly to Henry in the way that she values
her time and honors her path. She's been learning and is certain she will continue to learn to trust her
path.. her path is following her bliss or her heart, without worrying about the way others value their
time and path.
In the author's note to Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, Johnson writes that his inspiration is a quote from
Walden by Henry Thoreau. “One says to me, I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to
travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country.”
But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the swiftest traveler is he that goes afoot. I say to my
friend, “Suppose we try: who will get there first. The distance is thirty miles; the fare ninety cents...
Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night;...
You will in the meanwhile have earned your fare, and arrived there some time tomorrow, or possibly
this evening. Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day.”
Thoreau seems to be saying that going to Fitchburg is not getting there, but it is really the journey from
here to there that is important, that you are wasting precious time in working the whole day when you
can be experiencing the journey. Henry honors and trusts his path. Like my choreographer, he follows
I wonder what would have happened if Ellen had decided to walk with Henry rather than take the train.
If she had, who would have moved the bookcases for Mrs. Emerson. And who would have cut the
wood and swept the post office, if Ellen had walked?
A member of our Society recently told me that she has concluded that it is ultimately the basic nature of
a human being to live successfully and cooperatively in groups. She says the most important things she
could do as a human being would be interacting with other humans, loving them, working with them,
helping them and being vulnerable to them. --- that her fundamental role in life is in her relationships
The mission of the Unitarian Society is to build a caring community where children and adults can
safely learn and grow, where we are supported and challenged on life's journeys, called to service and
to our higher selves and inspired to better our world. How do we do that? Can we do that by hiking to
Fitchburg, or do we do it through service to others. Some of it can be done by chopping wood for
people who can't do it themselves. I suppose I can make a case that I can do some of it by being alone
on a mountain top, but most of it is done in service to people and to our communities. We all draw
sustenance and strength in a variety of ways like being on a solo walk in the woods, meditating alone or
with others, smelling the roses, dancing, weeding a garden. But the real work we do as humans goes
I first heard the story about Henry when Lawson Wulson, who read the story today, read it in a service
he gave last Spring. In Lawson's sermon, he tells the story of his family's adventure to Kenya. They
attempted to and succeeded in climbing Mount Kenya. It was a powerful story of a family's effort
together to find peace in nature. But Lawson also tells the story of how difficult the journey was; How
they almost didn't make it; How their vehicle got stuck in the mud more than once.
He read from his father's writing: “During the next three hours we spun dead into the mud at least ten
times. The road threw the vehicles around with violence, engines ripped through the silence of the
bamboo forest, tires burned, the radiator steamed. Each time we got stuck, the porters and the driver
would get out, study the situation--- in quick spurts of Meru, their tribal language—everybody shouting
ideas—then suddenly they would settle on a plan, tell me to shift forward or back or just sit there while
they lifted me, shouting rhythmically “harambe harambe” as they rocked this beast of a machine up out
of one rut into a better rut or solid ground. Then I gunned it forward, all four wheels flying and them
rocking me until the tires burned in and one caught and the Jeep lurched and they shouted more at it
and it lurched more and mud flew again and suddenly we would rise up and out and ahead to dry
ground to load up until the next mud hole.
Once, our road was blocked by the trunk of a fallen eucalyptus tree, four feet in diameter; it would take
an elephant to move it. So all 19 of us lined up, one shoulder into the trunk. We chanted together,
“Haram…be, haram…be,” and started rocking it, and together we did the elephant’s work, and then we
kept going up.”
The local guides all got out and worked together with each other and with the Wulsin family.
Harambe. Harambe they shouted in unison. And with each call, they worked as one, Harambe they
shouted and with that shout, they heaved and pushed together. In that moment, they were one. They
were one giant force that moved that truck out of the mud. They knew that alone, nothing would be
accomplished, but by working together, nothing would stop them, that they could do the elephant's
Harambe is a Swahili word: means all pull together, working together.
Harambe: Rita Marley sings:
All together in harmony
We sailing in the same boat
We rocking up the same stream
So no matter what they do
So no matter what they say
All a Jah Jah children a go Harambe
I'll say it again
all of ja ja's children go harambe. All of god's children go harambe
Harambe. Pulling together. That is our human calling.
I walk into this great hall, this sanctuary to find peace, to quietly reflect. But the purpose is to give me
the strength to do the real work. I walk in the woods and climb mountains so that I have the strength to
do what little I can to make this a better world. I find strength so that I can make this a better
community, to sustain me in my a religious calling to welcome new people. To find the strength and
courage to lead groups, to support my labor union, to be a better person.
The election is over. We must now take a breath. I suspect most of us need to find a sanctuary, a
cathedral, to rest, relax, spend some quiet time, to try and make sense of what has been happening in
our country and the world. But after that, we need to come together to start the process of healing and
uniting a very divided country. Hillary Clinton said these words in her concession speech “I still
believe, as deeply as I ever have, that if we stand together and work together, with respect for our
differences, strength in our convictions, and love for this nation -– our best days are still ahead of us.
You know I believe we are stronger together and will go forward together.“
The hard work still needs to be done. It cannot be done alone. We all must gather, in community, with
like minded and unlike minded people, and with equity, justice and compassion, we must work to forge
a new future. Do it with Harambe, all pulling together, all working together.
Find your cathedral, find your journey to Fitchburg, find your inner peace. And as you return to
[others], with the insights you gained, I hope you are able to perceive their worries and dreams, and
that they are tangled with your own!
From whatever you get out of that experience, as our mission statement implores you, may you be
inspired to better our world.
May peace be with you.
A Journey to Fitchburg
- Written by Jan Nettler
The election is over ---- now what? I really didn't want to talk about it, but maybe I will, just maybe,