As I made a 3-point turn to go back and check out the “House for rent” sign we just passed, my daughter literally shouted from the back seat “Oh my God, look at the trees!!!!” I smiled and saw where her eyes were gazing: a line of long leaf pines standing fifty-plus feet in the air, branches spread out against the Carolina blue sky. She couldn’t get over them! After spending 5 years of her young life in the Great Plains, the sight of green in the middle of winter is still shocking to her. Heck, it’s shocking to me, too!
I’ve often written about the effect of mountains on my own psyche. Something about the rolling blue-hued hills of my birthplace in southwestern Virginia got its hooks in me at a very early age. When I dream of what heaven must be like, that’s where my mind goes. There are memories and dreams all tied up in the smells, sights and sounds of those mountains for me. No doubt spending so much of my own childhood in the Great Plains explains my affinity for rolling topography, just as the lack of green every winter there explains my daughter’s joy over seeing those Carolina pines.
I’m no psychologist, but it’s obvious we as humans are deeply affected by places, and not always in the warm and fuzzy way. There are certain places which immediately make the hair on the back of my neck stand up just thinking about them. There are streets I associate with some of the best times in my life, and others with some of the worst decisions I’ve made. I know for some of you there may be places you can’t go to, even in your mind, due to the trauma associated with them. There are places I won’t step foot in again because of what they bring back to me.
Humans travel all over the world to visit certain spots with historical or spiritual significance: Normandy, Rome, the Taj Mahal, Mecca, Mt. Everest. A decade ago I travelled to Israel and was powerfully affected by the history of that place, where God became man and walked among us. Even the contested places there had a power, a pull, a feeling associated with them unlike anywhere I’d ever been. For millennia they have been fought over because…place matters.
And then there are the places within places: the houses, yards, and dinner tables where we gather with friends and family for the big and the small events of life. My kids talk often of Thanksgiving dinners at my mom’s house, or Mac and Cheese at my sister’s bar top, or BBQ at Parker’s with their Nanny and Papa, or pool-side cookout’s with their Aunt and Uncle. We remember our impromptu sleepover with dear friends thanks to a freak ice storm and ensuing power outage. I think of fire-pit hot-dog roasts with new friends in our driveway, dragging out the porch furniture we had stored in our garage (because we didn’t have a porch to put them on). I remember long sessions with new swings on old oak trees, and deep convos with friends on their porch under Christmas lights and bug zappers. All of those things conjure up memories of particular places and particular people because…
After spending the first two months of 2022 living with my folks, who were gracious enough to open their empty-nest to my family of five, we moved into a home of our own last weekend. It is the polar opposite of the one we rented in Oklahoma for 4 years: Two-Story Colonial vs. Tudor Ranch, bright vs. dungeon-esque, open floorpan vs walls everywhere, huge windows that let in tons of light vs old tiny ones that let in tons of wind. And, for the first time in our marriage, we have a front porch!
And yet, as thankful as I am for the house (and even the porch) it’s not what makes this place matter. Seeing my kids putting their things in their rooms, making them their own, makes this place matter. Seeing my wife configuring rooms to best facilitate our family, to make space for life to happen, makes this place matter. The people who will come through the door and sit on our couch, or eat at our table, will make this place matter. The memories my kids make, however long we live here, will make this place matter to them, and to us. Place matters, for sure, but in the end, it matters because of the lives lived and loved shared within them.
I look forward to doing my best to make this place matter.