When I was 10 or so I had this Asian-American friend named Bevin Lin. She was spunky, clever and brave. With her sleek black hair in a side ponytail, she was high style in the early nineties. Bevin and I had an obsession back then with finding and creating a special hideout, a secret place. We rode our bikes along the paths that flanked superbly boring stucco houses and it’s a tribute to the power of children’s imaginations that we were able to “see” these paths as as anything other than what they were. To us they were intricate and hidden, leading to mystery. We even made maps to our secret place. If I remember right our maps had something to do with the order in which we crisscrossed this or that cement walkway in order to unlock magic and take us to our secret place.
We never really discussed what was so important about this secret place. It was somehow a given. A place where we could be close to home-very much at home-and yet in a world apart. A place that would declare our pact of friendship and also provide solitude and scope for our imagination.
We never quite succeeded in finding this secret place but the act of looking thrilled us both. It was like the very fact that two of us together were seeking such a place proved that it existed. It wasn’t just my fantasy or Bevin’s. We both believed in the quest.
This afternoon while strolling little Aaron through shaded sidewalks I got to thinking about how the childhood urge for a hideout is present in the adult psyche. It isn’t to my mind the need for escape so much as a longing to go somewhere where you can tune out the world and tune into your own stillness. No, more than that. The secret place is about finding stillness and adventure. It’s a place you go to allow nature and heaven stir you, safeguard you, identify you and send you on your mission. Its the place where you can let heaven and nature sing to you in a mysterious, only-for-you-way. A place where you pause to listen with all you have. Like Bevin and I with our bikes and our maps, daring to believe in the magical other side of a beige apartment complex.
In my childhood brain magic was like another word for Heaven. Something magical encompassed all
the stuff that transcends this world and yet exists parallel; the infinite and the peculiar; where everything wonderful, amazing, awesome and beautiful originates. Invisible but utterly real, and just one imaginative thought, one hands’ breadth, apart.
When I was in my early twenties I used to go for these long morning runs I called “chasing the dawn”. As I put on my sneakers my eyes were on the sky. My course would be determined by where the morning light was leading. I was driven to find a place of beauty, where I could watch the Creator’s canvas unfold. Running toward a prime vantage point for the split second euphoria of light and color that is otherworldly. I would watch as up over the mountains peeled the sun, and in an instant, the spectacular exhibition was done. Daylight. A new, fresh morning. But on such mornings it felt nothing close to mundane. Now my eyes have seen-however brief and flickering-this touch of Heaven’s wand. I saw the magic. Even if no one else did. This was my secret place.
Now my life is so altered. I don’t have the liberty to run at the cusp of dawn. But still I hunger for the essence of the Secret Place. The place of tryst with heaven and nature.
It does exist. I catch glimpses here and there. Like the view, from the office/nursery window, of a magnificent tree that claps its thousands of hands when the wind blows through. Or sometimes it is the window into another world offered by the paintings that adorn our walls. Some days it is the corridor between two bookshelves in the local public library, where hundreds of adventures beckon from the stories they hold. I am grateful. Grateful that, as an adult and a mother now, the secret place is still only a handbreadth away at times.