On Place

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View from bedroom windows, Lower Farm

Our family spent the holiday at my mother’s house in Florida—presumably for the last time, since it has been sold. This is the house in which my father spent his last years, a home to which we all are deeply attached for sentimental as well as aesthetic reasons. After my parents bought the house, my mother had it razed with a bulldozer—an act that freaked us all out but turned out to be visionary. This was roughly a decade ago, when my father was starting to lose his mind and his bearings, and the house my mom designed and had built from the ground up is a humble homage to serenity. A work of art. A true sanctuary not just for my parents (or, now, my parent, singular), but for all who visit—whether for vacation or even just for a meal or game of bridge. Underfoot, big white stone squares span from terrace through central wide-open living space, where sumptuous white couches and ottomans are clustered around pots of white orchids atop stacks of books with ornate spines. My mother’s grandmother was a sculptress, and in order to display some of her sculptures, my mom had well-lit recessed shelving built, painted hydrangea blue in this otherwise white airy breeze of a space.

I love that place, in a way that feels like loving a being, not an inanimate object. I love the smell—of the jasmine and oleander, love the feel of cool flat stone under bare soles, love the short balmy walk to the beach. Time after time, I have arrived there contracted from the cold weather of the northeast, or otherwise rattled by life, and unfurled amidst the tropical jungle, found peace in this cozy uncluttered place. Even as I paced the white stone floors with my dad as he rapidly lost his lucidity and dragged the furniture around, repeating that he had to go, had to get out of here, at least we were surrounded by beauty. That meant something. It gave us something.

Before all that, we lost another place, one even more dear to me. The Lower Farm was our homestead built by my father on 180 acres overlooking the white mountains of New Hampshire, on land so remote and pristine it felt like we’d been airlifted there. Moose and black bear drank from the pond, in view of our bedroom windows. All eight grandchildren of my parents were born during the twenty-year era we grew attached to the Lower Farm, sinking emotional roots into flinty New Hampshire soil. Then my father suffered a calamity, and two forms of dementia prematurely set in, causing him to lose all his savings as a casualty of losing his mind; he made rash, spurious investments, and they had to sell. When we drove out of the Lower Farm driveway for the last time, seeing the view of the white mountains and the pond out my minivan windows to the left, and to the right the rows of blueberry bushes lining the spot where my husband and I said our marital vows, I howled. Like an amputee. The nephews who happened to be in my minivan with some of my children for this departure might have been afraid by my primal bellow, but they all joined me in that sound of grief. It was infectious, the pain of the loss, of the final goodbye.

Then we attached to the small place in Florida, and now we are saying goodbye to that—because my mother has to downsize again. Life is all about attachment and loss. We get attached to people, places, things, and then we lose them. Coping with this cycle of attachment and loss requires astounding reserves of resilience. Even the luckiest of us, people with lives referred to as charmed, cannot escape the inevitable cycle. Some people try, by not getting attached in the first place, the cost of which is isolation—its own form of perpetual loss. It’s a risk to attach. A courageous act to love. When we attach, our lives have a mind-boggling amount of loss in them. Which is why so many of us turn to substances and activities to numb and distract our minds—the aspect of us that lives presumably in our heads, that is so often boggled.  

Some places in our lives are less memorable than others. Some do less holding, less nurturing of us through a passage of time. Some do more. More cradling. When we lose our cradles, it can be brutal. As if we are leaving not just the place but the self we were there—for that time, in that place. Each chapter of self inevitably passes. But as we leave that past behind—and when necessary, the places that held us—we make room for what’s new. Whatever that may be.

 

 

 

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24 thoughts on “On Place”

    1. So beautifully said- the last paragraph put some of my recent thoughts into words I could never put together. Thanks, Hillary and happy new year 🙂

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  1. Hi Hiliary. How lucky you are to have had so many anchors! I feel a new perspective for what I have experienced thanks to you. I look forward to what lies ahead.. for both of us Happy New Year to you and Pierre! Love Carol Sent from my iPhone

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    1. Thanks Carol. It’s such a good way to look at the losses: as anchors. Yes there have been many. They are here, they anchor, and then so often, they go. My yoga teacher yesterday said of our bodies, “we just rent these things, for a limited time only.”

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  2. I love this remarkable description of attachment to and loss of place. Thank you, Hilary.
    This amazing place has been a sanctuary for me. An environment of beauty, of peace, of welcome to me my family and friends. I am deeply grateful for the time here —-for the urge from my husband to move and once again build with our beloved friend and architect, for the surrounding of beauty as we navigated the challenges of Kit’s illness and death, for this time of healing, and for the joy of each morning waking in this heavenly place. My goal, my intention is to take the self that lives here immersed in gratitude with me as I move on to the next.

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    1. Mom! Thanks for your comment—which could be its own blog post. I love the intention of taking the grateful self, grateful for a particular place, with you even when the place is no longer there for you. The gratitude for the place can outlive the actual relationship with the place itself. Love it—and YOU.

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  3. Thank you for sharing such a personal story of loss (and openness to new things/places to come). A beautiful reminder to all of us to be open and vulnerable, and call on our village for support as we make the leap to new experiences. 2018, here we come!

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    1. I love this addition of yours—to call on our village for support. I have been reflecting on something akin to this which will show up in a post in the near future, called On Having A Pit Crew. We need our villages, or tribes, and I am so thankful for mine. I also want to note that receiving these comments creates a sense of village for me that feels so supportive and for which I am ever thankful. Thank you for your contribution.

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  4. Hilary, I remember the NH farm–and your beautiful wedding (my sophomore year in college, wow)–like yesterday; an amazing, special sanctuary. We were also just at your parent’s house in FL over Thanksgiving, so the space you describe is tattooed in my recent memory; another extraordinary space that so beautifully reflected your mom. I also fondly remember the farm on Cherry Valley. All so special. Loved your description of attachment and loss and the cost/benefit we must commit to when we choose to love. Thanks!

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    1. That’s such a good way of putting it Timmy. The cost/benefit we MUST COMMIT TO WHEN WE CHOOSE LOVE. Yes, so true. The human condition is really not for the faint of heart is it? Love and Happy New Year and THANK YOU for commenting. xoxo

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  5. Bravo, Hilary. You are remarkable in writing to bring out memories and thoughts.
    Stockbridge seemed like a cradle to me, and your Mom& Dad had that knack to buy
    cradles, even for us cousins, who maybe only experienced them once. Keep writing,
    because you are brilliant!
    Alan

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    1. Alan! Another descendent of the memorialized sculptress! Your comment makes me teary. I am so grateful. And I will keep writing and I so appreciate the championing. Really. Deeply. Love and happy new year, Hilary

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  6. I love the way you describe the attaching and letting go process, both so necessary for life to keep going. It is no accident that it took us 4 years to sell our house in Vermont. We simply weren’t ready until we were only we didn’t even know it. The letting go process took a long time. When it was time, we let to and made room for what we have now which so suits this time in our lives. And yes we do let go of the self that we were then. That is the only way to make room for the next self.
    Being so familiar with both of the places you talk about is an extra added bonus to reading this post.
    Love and hugs from yet another descendent of the memorialized sculptress!

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    1. Not only a descendent, but a namesake of Anna Glenny Dunbar! And thank you for your comment, about letting go of one self to make room for the next incarnation …. Love love love, Hilary

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  7. Dearest Hilary,
    It is a sanctuary. It’s the best when all of you are there with children! All of you bring your own energies.
    Your Mom will bring her energy and love to her new place. She has a vision and it becomes a reality which we all appreciate and enjoy. Amazing.
    Love to you precious Hilary.

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