Photo found at: http://pollyhazelhall.blogspot.com
My daughter and I recently started a little tradition of walking together through our neighborhood. It is a neighborhood made for walking; a sprawling collection of nestled neighborhood villages; each with its own fantastic name, like Esmerelda or Faberge’ or Landora.
I struggle to keep pace with her. At 13 years, she is taller and stronger than me, and those long legs command me to almost jog, until I remind her to slow down a bit. We talk of nothing and everything. We comment upon the crows and ibis and mockingbirds, the antics of feisty miniature dogs yelping and yanking on leashes, the piercing, predatory eyes of cats slinking under cracked garage doors. It is good, this time we share; in conversation, laughter, or silence. We are being, together.
She has explored every nook and cranny of this conglomeration of glamorously-named suburbia. She shows me places that my mom-mode-driving-in-the-van eyes have often overlooked. So many hidden gems; little ponds, favorite trees, deserted houses, noted houses that always decorate for the holidays, noted lawns smelly with mounds of ignored dog poo. Brilliant.
Recently she took me down a new street. The moment I stepped upon the first slab of sidewalk, I could feel it. It. What was It? Something. And I could just feel it. We both could. This was a good street, a great discovery. Now, it looked much like every other street. It was short, ending in a cul de sac. Really, in this masterpiece of housing development, just a simple handful of homes. The cul de sac held a little island, with a few old trees, and a bench. She insisted we sit on this bench for a while, and we did. Just a lovely space, a lovely walk.
A few days later, we returned to this special spot. A gang of little boys, maybe aged 10 or 11, were playing basketball in a driveway; shouting, laughing, and occasionally running between lawns and in and out of front doors. As my daughter and I neared the special bench, we noticed the boys grew quiet and vigilant, sometimes shooting us sober glances. Perhaps they think we are creepy strangers, I ventured. One boy approached us, and with a shaking voice, yelled out that we were sitting on his friend’s bench, and to please get up and leave. This was odd behavior, but was likely caused, I thought, by a whispered dare from a conspiring, mischievous friend. So, we held our ground, or should I say, our bench, and continued on with girl talk.
Some minutes passed, and again, the boy approached us, this time with his friend in tow. In a stronger voice, he repeated his earlier demand. The friend behind him seemed to take this whole debacle quite seriously; and in his large, brown eyes, there was pain, and sadness. Thus, a bit befuddled and uncomfortable, my daughter and I relented. We stood, and the boys shot off down the street. I offered to my daughter to speak to the boys, but I got the infamous Mom no! Gawd your so embarrassing! eye roll, so again I relented, and we were off, to try to find another street of gold.
When we’d nearly reached the end of the street, a woman came out of one of the front doors. She was beautiful, in a bright colorful dress, with these large, captivating brown eyes. The same brown eyes I had seen moments before. This was momma. She approached us with a smile.
“I just want to tell you, to please sit on that bench whenever you want. Please. That’s what it’s there for.” She almost sang it. Maybe she did sing it. It was like Amazing Grace, really.
Something in her voice caused me to confess everything. The feeling that embraced me every time my foot met her sidewalk, the sweet air of this little street, the magical space of that bench. Her eyes glistened a bit more than they had before. There were tears in them.
That bench was her husband’s bench, her late husband. The little street’s homeowners had purchased it and dedicated it to him when he died, and placed it in the cul de sac. No one ever sat there, she said, except for her family, but it was meant for everyone, meant for sitting, it was meant for being together. Every morning she prayed, every morning she blessed her little street and the bench upon it. Sometimes, she said, it felt like going through the motions…but not really. No, it was just her routine. And now someone could feel it.
She held me with that voice, that low, sweet singing voice. And there we were, blubbering on together, celebrating together, laughing and tears together; two souls communing, marking a special time when two strangers became sisters somehow.
On our walk home, my daughter and I were giddy, surprised, enlivened.
That was a good walk mom! Yes, sweet girl, that was a good walk.
So much magic all around us; in all the ordinary, hidden spaces. So much magic within us; in the ancient, forgotten places.
There are benches of the heart, waiting for us to come and sit and visit a while. Just waiting, patiently, for us to come and be with ourselves. There is wisdom in these spaces, overgrown perhaps with the dense ivy of checklists and goals and worries and achievements. But that quiet wisdom is awaiting your sweet warm body; waiting for you to settle into it without expectation; waiting for you to listen to the thumps of its old wooden heart. You will find, the wooden slabs sing to you, songs of the little pieces of you, if you are quiet. A hum, a chant, a lullabye, a whisper of how very precious you are.
But there is ever a guardian at the gate, a child perhaps, with soulful eyes, who’ll brook no disrespect. You may enter only with love, and love every last inch, every knot in the grains of your glorious wood. The knots hold the magic that is You, if only you give them a little caress.