When the idea for this week’s column first took shape, I was drinking a smoky and sharp grande cup of coffee outside of a Starbucks Coffee Café in Bedford, New Hampshire, right across from the Bedford Mall. At least I think that’s where I was. I could have been at a Starbucks in Elkhart, Indiana…or in Rockford, Illinois, on State Street where two Starbucks are less than a mile and a half apart…or maybe it was in Minneapolis but with 22 Starbucks there it’s hard to recall which bistro I was visiting. The rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike? The one on Route 9 in Framingham? Not sure.
I was some “place”, some “where” drinking my “Charbucks”, as some like to call that chain’s dangerously dark drink. Yet I was kind of nowhere too and anywhere, could have been at any one of that franchise’s 19,000 stores in the United States. Not unlike the Comfort Inn hotels I stayed at while driving 3,000 miles across the United States on a summer road trip. The Dick’s Sporting Goods I bought my bike supplies. The numbingly familiar interstate gas stations where I purchased my gas.
All located in a specific place, some where on a map, yet kind of no where too. Places so generic, so similar, so cloned one from another that in visiting there it felt like I was in Anytown, USA, any place. But there was no “there”, there.
Yet on my trip I was also in places that were so very real: unique, odd, local, totally some where, points on the map unlike any place else. The tiny George’s Barber Shop in Saint Joseph, Minnesota, barely large enough for one chair, a dusty wall calendar, taciturn George snipping away. The Paul Bunyan Cook Shanty Restaurant in Minoqua, Wisconsin, an all you can eat dinner of fried chicken, white fish, spaghetti, apple sauce and cole slaw spilling over the plates. The Wild Rumpus Children’s Bookstore in Minneapolis, with a four foot purple front door for the kids to enter and a live chicken sitting in the front window.
We live in strange times in our world when it comes to claiming and finding a “place”, a real place to visit, to dwell within, to claim as our own. Spending so much of our time now planted before a screen: typing out texts, penning rushed emails, surfing Facebook, tweeting on Twitter. Is cyberspace a real place? When we are in “there” are we anywhere? Or no where? Some where? Every where? I’m not sure.
We travel across a landscape now so often paved over and built up with super sized boxy stores and uber chic outlet malls and on and off highways exits leading to McDonalds and Mobil gas, and Home Depot and places like every where else. Where am I? Phoenix, Arizona? Cedar Rapids, Iowa? Freeport, Maine? Manchester, Vermont? Who knows? Who cares? Fill it up. Buy it up. Then return back to the highway to visit another “place”.
But how important a sense of place is to this life: a specific and comforting and geographically defined and found space. Holy ground to stand upon. Land to dig deeply into. An address to return to again and again and again and in that journey back home to trust that we do have a real place, that there are still real places left in the world.
The white church on Main Street, too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter but our place to reunite with old friends and talk to God and sip sweet lemonade on the back patio as toddlers prance and elders gossip and folks catch up. No place else like it anywhere in the world. A cabin in the woods, down a long dirt path, well worn docks floating on the lake, the splash of waves and the cry of loons and the buzz of hot bugs calling us back to this place. The local bookstore. The ice cream shop. The post office.
Real places. Real dots on the map. All some where. Right here. We all need a place, sacred spaces in life to live within, to visit, to love and to inhabit.
Where is your place? May God bless you as you seek to find it.