I have vivid memories of a couple of secret, magical places of my childhood. I can conjure the smell of the earthiness in the old, empty wooden hut tucked into the lilacs surrounding our backyard. I remember the vast, shady real estate between the rows of sheets hanging on the line where whole dynasties were won and lost. And I can still feel the roughness of the tree limbs as I perched for hours some afternoons, invisible in the green leafiness.
I love what Elizabeth Goodenough, in her book Secret Spaces of Childhood, says about these childhood retreats:
[In these retreats], children script what they look for and become…In the practice of such hand-shaping and story-making, children hone the two survival skills of their species. [They are] nourishing these small heroics of being human (pg. 9, emphasis added).
I love this concept that children create their world first in their secret spaces and then in the actual world—shades of “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was made flesh” and hints of Elder Bednar’s conference talk where he suggests that prayer helps us to spiritually create the day before it is lived.
But what about now? Where do we nourish these small heroics of being human now that we’ve outgrown spending afternoons in trees?
. . .
I live about a mile from Walden Pond, Thoreau’s famous nature retreat on the edge of Concord. I’ve adopted it as a favorite spot of my own; there’s still a reverent, hushed quality to the pond and the trails surrounding it. One summer we tried to hike around it at least once a week and, while our early enthusiasm wavered in late July, I think we made it probably ten times.
Thoreau is the grand-daddy of the occasional retreat:
Amen, Mr. Thoreau.
. . .
My great-grandmother Brockbank raised nine daughters in the 1920s and 30s and, as you can imagine, her life was full of laughter and noise and teaching and staggering amounts of laundry. Every year she would say “I’m going to live with the bears” and she would pack up, leave her daughters in the good care of a relative, and check in to the Hotel Utah in Salt Lake City for a week, taking a whole suitcase full of magazines and books with her (I really am her granddaughter in so many ways).
From her journal: it was “my therapy. I could get a room for five dollars, and I read and slept and shopped and renewed myself for the next year…I’d sleep late, then out for a hearty breakfast, then didn’t need to eat until dinner.” Only a few select friends were invited to visit or lunch or shop with her and no one else was allowed to contact her, even in emergency. At the end of her stay, she would return to the house rejuvenated and restored and ready to go on mothering.
She sent the message, loud enough so I still hear it a couple of generations later: stepping away from the usual necessities of life carries its own magic and grants a big-picture perspective. And getting away is less about escape (but that, too) and more about being still and scripting what we will become.
. . .
Did you have a secret space of childhood?
What about now? Where do you go to refill and rest?
Where would you go “live with the bears” if you could be still for a week (and I realize how difficult this really can be)?
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