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A Place in the Heart

It has been more than 50 years since the magic of my secret place held me within its kingdom. For kingdom it was to me — never mind that its realm was defined by the embrasure of two brick walls forming a corner, screened in by lovely and sumptuous hydrangea bushes, and the spread of rich, loamy earth beneath. The reality I experienced each time I ducked into its cool and shaded space was one of solace in a time of trouble, or wonder, in the midst of an otherwise structured and predictable life.

It was a place of mystery, for unerringly at each visit I would find some unexpected and special gift, whether the fascinating activities of some strange but companionable insect, or a scattering of lovely, scattered beads inexplicably left there for me to find.

If the weather was cool or cloudy, soft and special winds would seek me there to whisper the secrets of their journeys. If the sun was blazing its presence above, my little kingdom would hold me in its cool, shadowed embrace. It did not matter that only a few feet away intermittent traffic and the occasional pedestrian held sway. I was invisible to them, protected by the benevolence of the hydrangea bushes.

Here, I was not ashamed to whisper intimate conversations to the other members of this magical world. In fact, my belief in one of these members, guardian angels, was strongly enforced on the day I discovered this much-needed haven.

I had been walking home from school, in a hurry to get there on time, and sadly aware of the generous portions of homework I must deal with that night, when I walked by the spot the first time. I recall that an intuitive twinge struck me as I admired the generous, periwinkle globes of the hydrangea blossoms, set against the large and graceful leaves. There was a special presence in the corner space that they framed, and I promised myself — in the sincere way that children do — that I would return at the first opportunity to explore more seriously.

Two weeks passed before I had the chance to pursue that investigation. I casually strolled by, and glancing about to ensure I was not observed, quickly dashed between and beneath the bushes. There was, indeed, a private space to be claimed. The sensuously rich perfume of wet earth surrounded me, and the cool and solid comfort of the brick walls enclosing the space offered a solid vantage point from which I could relax and enjoy my surroundings.

This was a realm of discovery. Caught in the calm comfort of its power, my mind and imagination expanded, almost by reflex, to meet the promise of this magic place. It was here, on my first visit, that I sought to grasp the meaning of eternity. I remember relaxing into a mental space in which I was able to focus intensely on the concept of eternity. After a period of time, I began to sense an approach to understanding its nature, and just as I felt I would grasp it, my mind would suddenly jump back to the moment before, just as a phonograph needle skips backwards on a scratched record. The emotional sensation of my mind skipping backwards was surprisingly not an unpleasant sensation, but became, instead, the first of many such inner experiences to be enjoyed in my secret place.

So many years later, now, as the mantle of adulthood has inexorably settled upon my shoulders, I might be tempted to say that the magic of my secret sanctuary could not compete with the reality of life. For its special presence was sacrificed many years ago on the altar of “progress”, to make room for a new condominium complex. And yet, even now, that haven gifts me with an even greater reality, for its marvelous force lives on in me, every time the demands of reality require that I escape for a few moments to that lovely and unforgettable space in my memory. A place in the heart.