Of Place & Being

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If I could take a piece of every place I’ve loved; a feeling, a smell, a moment, and bottle it up as a remedy for sadness, I could give it to the world and make it a better place, I know it. A quote I have always loved by Helen Keller says “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose, all that we love becomes a part of us”. There is something about where we’ve been, we carry it with us, which shapes so much of who we are. It’s woven into our soul – these magical fibers of peace and belonging; of experiences, that, when taken as a single thread, may seem inconsequential. But when placed next to the important and mundane creates a rich tapestry that we can more fully appreciate and enjoy if we look at all those moments combined.

I have been blessed in my life to have lived and experienced many places I have called home. I am no world traveler, but I have seen bits of the world, and each of those bits has made me who I am. Whether it was getting lost, completely alone, in the streets of a foreign city, traveling the country in a car with my family, a quick weekend trip to the city with my love or taking a spontaneous trip to another country with an acquaintance I barely knew (that one didn’t turn out so well) – all these experiences are encapsulated in my heart. I can look back and tell you what it felt like to slip on the wet cobblestones of Dublin, or the feel of a warm pebbled beach on the Northern California coast, the smell of warm hay on the prairies of Texas, or watching the fireflies glow at dusk on a humid southern summer night. And one thing these moments have in common is a feeling that was created. Each place we have been makes us feel something: it may be something new, it may be frightening, and it may be exhilarating and wonderful, but it’s the feeling of being that we take with us from these places. I am because I’ve been, because I’ve lived, and I continue to live within these moments and live on so that I may create new ones with the people I love.

I have carried one place in particular in my heart for the past few years, as it was my family’s most recent home before our current one. Ever since we left Laie, Hawaii three and a half years ago, I have yearned for the community we lived in on the island. Never have I experienced such a sense of togetherness, of shared bonds with so many people from so many cultures and walks of life. It may have been that we were poor college students just starting our family like so many others, or perhaps it was the Aloha spirit that permeates the land, or perhaps the signature slowness of Hawaiian culture – that relax-no-rush mentality of island living. Perhaps it was all of these things combined. But nothing quite compares to the unique situation that we lived in while there. Impromptu dinners with multiple friends, potluck style where everyone brings whatever they can scrounge up from their low supply and miraculously we would all share a delicious meal together. Or when your beater car stopped working it was so easy to ask a friend to borrow theirs, oftentimes it was volunteered before you could even ask. Watching each other’s kids was the same, you didn’t necessarily have to ask (but you would to be polite) it was just a given that we help each other get by. People shared and donated clothes and household goods to people in need who had very little. And it wasn’t just common courtesy, it was out of a deep love and care for each person and family. Letting a friend live on your couch for a month wasn’t a chore or an obligation, it was just pure friendship. Baking meals for those in need, helping an acquaintance pay for groceries – these were all just natural pieces to the community puzzle. Everyone was called Auntie and Uncle because we were one large family, whether or not we even knew each other’s names.

Now that we live “on the mainland” it has been hard to find a community with such tight bonds. Our shared experiences have quite a lot to do with how we connect to one another, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. It has now been my dream to recreate that sense of community that we experienced on the island, regardless of whether I share common experiences with others in my new community. I want my children to grown up knowing that helping others is not an obligation but a joyful opportunity to get to know someone you might not necessarily have thought to get along with in the first place. Now that I have three small boys and one more on the way I have found that it can be difficult to cultivate this sense of community I’ve always wanted, especially if the desire for togetherness does not already exist. My personal life finds me so busy at times that all I can do is just survive day to day. Yet even on the busiest of days I still know the importance of togetherness (you may not think that when I’m telling my kids to get away from each other but it’s true!). The sense of community starts in my home and it starts with me. As a mother it is my role to mold an environment for my kids in which they can live in harmony with one another, as well as with others in the world. Only my husband and I can provide the safe place for them to be educated and nurtured in the way that will provide them with the ability to be positive, contributing members of society. We can start small, in the little community of our home, by offering them stability and responsibility, by teaching them they are a piece to a whole and we need them – and all their little talents and traits – in order to live in harmony. That one day they may be able to go out in the world, judgement-free, capable of seeing others for who they are and desirous to connect with people from all cultures and backgrounds.

Just as I carry with me all the places that have shaped my life and made me who I am, I hope that my children can remember this place, each place, which we call home. That their experiences in our home and in our community will have made positive memories that shape who they are. That they may look back as I do, on a warm summer night running through sprinklers, or a cool, fall Saturday morning playing soccer, or a rainy day spent by the fire playing board games, and remember joy and comfort and a sense of belonging. And that armed with the confidence of knowing where they’ve been, they will be able to go forth knowing who they are, who they want to be and how they can make the world a better place.

Journalist: Ashley Oborn