One of my favorite bloggers recently posted a piece aboutHappy Places, the places where she is happy, or where she remembers being entirely happy. It made me think about what my Happy Places are, and since it’s been kindof an, um,interesting week on a number of levels, I thought I’d share. So, without further ado, these are my Happy Places:
- My grandparents’ house in Ironton, the small Southern Ohio town where I was born: It has been so many years since I was there (they moved into an assisted living facility when I was in 8th grade), but I can still see so many details of that house in my mind. The entry hall with my grandmother’s piano against the wall, and the secretary where she wrote all of our birthday cards in her graceful handwriting; the living room with the two rocking recliners where Grandma and Grandpa sat, the oddly textured lamps on the Danish modern end tables, the built in bookshelves with the photo albums and the children’s books; the dining room with the low window seat along a wall of windows, the long dinner table that always had all the leaves in so we could sit together, and the small buffet where the serving dishes were kept, and Grandpa’s super sharp Japanese knife with its elaborate carved sheath. I could go room by room, telling you about the stained glass lampshade in the kitchen that Grandpa made for Grandma for their anniversary, the phenomenally tidy basement with the floor so clean you could eat off of it, and so much more. I loved every detail of that house. When I was little I thought that was the way a house Should Be, so quiet and clean and orderly, with Grandpa playing his improvised music on the piano downstairs, and chocolate milk to drink whenever I wanted it. That house, in my memory, will always be a Happy Place.
- Grand Avenue in St. Paul, MN: for two years I was part of a national traveling youth ministry retreat team that was based out of W. St. Paul. I spent a large chunk of my summer in between my two years of ministry in St. Paul too, and have been back two or three times since. I got to know St. Paul a little bit then, and especially grew to love Grand Avenue. One evening a friend and I walked all the way down from The Green Mile at the top, past the colleges and old houses and quirky shops, into the more trendy shopping area. We looked into windows as we passed, and talked about just about everything. We ended up at Grand Ole Creamery, where we got cones of their fabulous ice cream which we ate slowly as we walked all the way back up again. Every time I go back to the Twin Cities I try to make sure I make it to Grand Avenue at least a little. It will always be a special place to me.
- Woodland Altars: I started going to summer camp there when I was – I dunno – fourth grade? Fifth? I don’t remember anymore. I just know that the highlight of my summer every year was the drive down into the hills of Southern Ohio with my bags all packed to spend a week at camp. All winter I scrimped and saved every birthday present and babysitting fee to be able to help pay for it. I did Horseback Riding Camp, and Performing Arts Camp, and I don’t know what others. To be honest, I wasn’t a very happy preteen or teenager, but most of the really good, golden memories of that part of my childhood are from my time at Woodland Altars. To this day, I still think it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth.
- The breakfront (I think that’s what it’s called) at McKinley Marina in Milwaukee: When I was 18 I ended up moving to Milwaukee for two years. I lived a few blocks away from McKinley Marina, and one of my favorite things to do was to walk down to the breakfront, and stroll out along the top. On the one side you could turn and look back at Milwaukee’s skyline, and on the other you could look out over the Lake, and almost imagine yourself on the shore of the ocean. Standing out at the end with the breeze blowing my hair back away from my face was one of the best places I knew.
- Swing dancing: Last Fall there was some fairly bad things happening in my life. They were hard to talk about, and my swing dancing friends ended up being the last ones to know. I was talking about it with Mai, and realized that one of the main reasons I hadn’t told her anything about it before was because I mostly saw her at swing dancing, and I didn’t want to talk about Bad Things at swing dancing because that was my Happy Place. Not that I’m blissfully happy every moment that I’m there, but there have been so many times when I came to dancing feeling grumpy and mad at the whole world, and left happy and peaceful, ready to go on and deal with whatever was bothering me. Dancing makes everything better. As Mai and I were talking, sitting on the floor at the edge of the dance floor, we looked out across at the dancing couples, at the windows that fog up on humid nights, at the Christmas lights around the DJ booth and the fake fireplace in the corner, I realized how incredibly blessed I am that I have a Happy Place that not a memory or a daydream, but a real, actual place that I physically go to at least once a week.
- Eucharistic Chapels: When I was a little kid I used to sneak away as soon as school was over, and go visit Jesus in the Eucharist at the church next to the Catholic school I attended. Catholics believe that Jesus, while present in every time and place, is particularly present in a real, physical way in the bread and wine consecrated at every Mass. Most Catholic churches reserve some of the bread (hosts), and keep them in the Tabernacle, which is found either at the front of the Church or in a smaller chapel specially dedicated to the Eucharist, so that people can come and spend time in a special way with Jesus. I didn’t know all that theology then, but I knew that there was something special there, and it drew me. The church wasn’t really open, but somehow I discovered that one of the side doors was often unlocked. I would go into the empty church, and spend some time just standing in front of the tabernacle. I don’t even know if I prayed, I just knew that I wanted to be there. My brothers and sisters would get so irate when I kept them waiting. They weren’t allowed to walk home without me, and they would search all over the school and not find me. When I finally showed up I didn’t tell them where I’d been, but would say that I was in the school library or in the bathroom. I don’t know why I hid where I’d been, but it seemed like a secret just for me and God. I still go to Eucharistic chapels. One of the things I love about UD is that there are so many. When I was in classes, I went to them between classes. Sometimes I prayed, and sometimes I had to do homework, and, well, sometimes I fell asleep (tired undergrad + quiet, peaceful chapel = snooze). Some people may think doing homework in the Eucharistic chapel is a little sacrilegious, but I always figured that Jesus wants to be part of everything I do, and He didn’t mind.
You know the nice thing about Happy Places? It makes me feel better just to think about them.
So what’s your Happy Place?