There have been times in my life when I was taking a class of some sort (yoga, creative drama, meditation) in which the participants were asked to think of a time when they were totally at peace. I am happy to say that there were many times in my life when I was totally at peace. I have written about lying on a blanket under the deep shade of a maple tree when I was very young, while my mother read aloud to her boys. (See blog post, Now is Forever)
In another vignette of total peace, I recall awakening on a screened porch at a cottage in Maine. “The boys” were all sleeping on the porch. My two brothers were still fast asleep. In the damp chill of the pine-scented morning air, I was wrapped in the cozy warm comfort of heavy blankets. Outside, the surrounding trees could only be seen as dark gray figures peeking out, presenting themselves veiled in the ghostly wraps of fog. Through the stillness of the morning air, I heard the sound of oars gently rowing away from shore in the nearby lake. Dad was going fishing.
These were moments of comfort, moments of security. I was safe. And in safety, I was happy.
Another such moment I recall would not fit with most people’s idea of what safety looks like. It came at a time when I was eight or nine years old. For reasons I can not now recall, I had to stay home from school. I don’t remember feeling ill, though I might have been ill. In any case, I recall that I was legitimately home from school, and I had the day to myself.
It was April. Winter was still in the process of giving way to spring. I gazed out our kitchen window to see our inner city view. It was a tiny, fenced-in, dirt-surfaced yard about the size of an over-sized blanket. Beyond our 36″ fence was a gravel driveway and parking lot. On the other side of the narrow driveway sat a small, squat cinder-block building once used as my dad’s (then defunct) business, “Dick’s Battery Service,” which was surrounded by wrecked, mangled and simply disused cars which were presumably used for parts in the red brick autobody shop that formed the rest of our view.
The parking lot of wrecked cars was a fascinating place for neighbourhood kids. The cars had all been placed in close proximity to each other since they were more-or-less permanently there. No one would be using any of them for transportation at least. Some of them, sporting smashed front-ends, broken windshields and dried blood spewed across the hood, gave grim testimony to the lack of seatbelts in cars in the 1950s. The existence of this small junk yard made playing hide-and-seek a delight.
For me, one thing stood out in the junk yard as an oddity. Alongside the red brick building of the autobody shop laid a single thick slab of slate. It seemed large to an eight year-old. It was perhaps as much as five feet long, six inches thick and about 18 inches wide. None of the boys in the neighbourhood could even lift one end of the thing. There it sat, out of context, seemingly eternal. Neighbourhood kids often used it as a small bench of sorts.
So on this day when I was alone at home and the warmth of a promising April sun shone brightly that afternoon, I wandered out to the slate slab and sat upon it. It was warm! The dark gray slate had become a heat sink for the emerging energy of the sun. As it was bounded on three sides by building, and junk cars, there was only one direction in which passage to it was truly open. No one seemed to be around. It was too early in the season for the autobody shop to have its doors open, so most of the loud sounds it typically made were contained within the building.
I laid my little body down on the stone slab and fell asleep.
I suppose it might have been the kind of scene that a well-meaning photographer trying to make social commentary would have loved to have photographed – a little kid, sleeping on a flat rock in a junk yard. Such a picture would tear at the heartstrings of any parent who would never want to picture their own child in that state. Yet the memory of that experience is today among the memories I have of true peace and contentment.
In this age of tweets and twitter feeds, likes and emoticons that seem to say everything that needs to be said, I submit that context should not become marginal. Sometimes context makes the meaning.