Spreading love from a Swannanoa Valley intersection

Shelly Frome
Special To The Black Mountain News

According to a popular theory, there are only six degrees of separation between people everywhere, even in America’s deeply polarized society. By the same token and by extension, two local women, who met purely by chance, now wish to create a movement to deepen these positive, often hidden connections for the common good.

In order to better understand this phenomenon and the sensibilities of this particular duo, we have to pull back a bit.

Ruth Pittard, left, and Laura Staley met by chance after moving to the Swannanoa Valley, where they now spread a message of love from the intersection of Montreat Road and State Street every Wednesday afternoon.

At the outset, we can start with Laura Staley and what drew her to Black Mountain.

“Thirty years ago I came down from Ohio,” she said, “saw the Blue Ridge Parkway and wept. Recently, I came upon a house by the side of a mountain with black bears and their cubs and felt like a grownup Goldilocks. I finally realized I was truly in a place where I belonged.”

For Ruth Pittard’s part, she’d been coming to this area her entire life.

“I grew up in Conover,” she said, “near Hickory. Coming to Asheville was a big deal. My mother did handwork and embroidery and loved the artist guild. My grandfather had a house near Blowing Rock with eighteen beds and we all gathered there every season. So it was a combination of mountains, gatherings and beautiful scenery.”  

Later on, while at Davidson College, continuing to gather and nurture her charges, Pittard and a few close friends would light out on weekends to Black Mountain to shop at Seven Sisters Gallery and dine at The Veranda restaurant.

Now segue to the immediate present. After long last taking up residency here, the two women  encountered one another at a Sunday service at the Unitarian Universalist Society of the Swannanoa Valley.

“During a segment called Joys and Concerns, I shared my gratitude for wonderful turns in my life, ” said Staley. “Ruth came over to me afterwards and emanated such love, that I knew I had encountered a kindred spirit. It’s been laughter and tears and sharing blessed moments ever since.”

“These were moments of deep recognition,” Pittard added. “I soon began having visions of being the face of love in this community. At the same time, I remembered a similar vision of a loving place since childhood—perfect strangers opening their hearts. My gift appears to be sensing people’s hearts and pain without interference or trepidation. To be company. To stand with them.”

They both began to realize that they needed some means of evolving from awareness to some form of action. Ruth recalled a documentary film in which a woman named Lannette Jamison had a near death experience whereby she was called upon to gather with other souls who resonated with love to go out and sow the seeds.

As it happens, through the grapevine, the two were recently invited to be part of the International Day of Peace at the United Nations in New York. There, meeting like-minded people, they were prompted to be their larger selves and most loving selves routinely in whatever they do. And that it’s vital “in order for us to survive.” Moreover, the quest expanded to “When you lose your mind, you find your heart.”

Before they knew it, they were in consort with a woman wearing clownish garb stuffed with gadgets and toys as they actually caused hardened New Yorkers to stop for a moment and laugh as they tossed fuzzy bugs against plate glass shop windows that playfully cascaded up and down.   

Back home, emboldened by the sight of Erica Burns in town, holding up a sign  protesting against children and parents being separated at the southwestern border, our intrepid tandem decided to incorporate everything they’d learned, holding up their own posters of love and joy from 5-6 p.m. on Wednesdays at the very same main intersection. .

So far, they’ve continually received lots of hugs, smiles, waves and joyous horn beeping. In effect, they’ve started small, actually reaching out.

Envisioning the creation of safe places for people to come together. Trusting one another and truly taking the time to listen. Collecting and sharing stories. Tapping all this communal potential.