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In more ways than one, Sharyn McCrumb’s novel poses the issue of the place of contemporary role models in our lives. Through the stories of an unexpected band of travelers, the reader is driven to evaluate his sentiments about such things as secular sainthood, why some people’s deaths produce great impressions upon society, and how those deaths figure in the formation of a community.A motley crew of characters come together on a journey from Bristol to Daytona for a Dale Earnhardt remembrance tour. They commemorated Dale’s memory by laying down a wreath on each track and reflecting upon how Dale has affected their lives. McCrumb has turned this tour into a pilgrimage, and Dale Earnhardt as the saint. The story’s characters came from different places, different walks of life.There’s the elderly couple where the wife was rendered senile with Alzheimer’s; the young couple who got married in Bristol; Terence, a New York Stock broker who was trying to come to terms with his father’s death; Reverend Knight, chaperoning the dying child Matthew; quirky sisters Rebekah and Justine; Harley the tour guide, a has-been NASCAR racer; and Cayle who believed that the ghost of Dale Earnhardt helped her fix her car in a deserted road.Religions have lists of holy people they revere. Those who are revered and exalted in the non-sacred sphere is placed in the category of “secular sainthood.” But what makes a secular saint? In Earnhardt’s case, his bond with his racing fans and his untimely death in the act of the very sport that endeared him to them has lifted him to the status of “saint.” Dale Earnhardt has become a medium by which a group of people founded a fellowship upon. None of the pilgrims had ever met him, but he has made a profound impact on each of their lives, making them feel a great loss when he died. Because of this collective experience, people who were not necessarily from the same backgrounds had a chance to come together and form a supportive and enlightened community. This kind of experience is what makes a community possible.The parallels to the pilgrims of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is not lost on the experienced reader. The allegorical treatment serves well to make the reader ponder on his own thoughts on the impact of secular saints to the lives of common people. The characters, also pilgrims on a quest to their sacred shrine with an exalted purpose, tell stories and share their lives. They could be very different from each other, but they bonded and shared their experiences. But the end of the story, they were a solid, tight-knit group, each empathizing with   everyone’s woes  This act of camaraderie helped make them the community that they eventually became.The pilgrims, being touched by Dale’s life and bound by a common experience, have broken down the walls that separate them, so that each individual is a kin to everyone. By the same token, when an individual enters a community, he takes upon himself the value attached to that community and represents that value. Under certain contexts and conditions, these values call out a sense of fellowship among those in a group. Values such as love, empathy, companionship, and solidarity reign supreme.An individual’s relationship to the community can be determined my many factors. One of which is the need to belong or to return to a company of people. In a search for self-discovery, one can have a different facet of their identity emerge. If we are to examine the position of an individual within a social group or institution, it would seem that while each of the character’s stories are independent, all of them influence each other in that group. This hearkens back to the idea that when an individual becomes part of a certain environment, this would influence him to be transformed as a different sort of individual. But in this metamorphosis, he also affects those lives within his community.The religious comparison was also an existing undercurrent in McCrumb’s work. The workings of popular religion was hinted at, especially with regard to miracles. Most of the story’s character’s believe that Dale has the power to do miracles. There are believers and unbelievers, but by the novel’s end, everybody experienced a miracle in one form or another. Whether the miracle is due to some higher power, or merely a coincidence is up to the judgment of the reader.The novel delves on the concept of the human need for heroes. Great individuals fill gaps in people’s lives. Individuals of great character and spirit have notably transformed the communities which they are part of.. Some call them their heroes, their inspirations, their champions, and in the case of McCrumb’s story, their saint. Dale Earnhardt as a religious character have brought into an affinity with him the members of the community in a universal religion. The development of an individual and his community are not mutually exclusive. When an individual comes within a group, there is always some part of him that would be integrated to the group as a whole. In the case of St. Dale’s pilgrims, a good change towards self-discovery inevitably took place.

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