The Power of Place
I, for one, constantly underestimate the power of place. Despite my rigorous proclamations about the materiality of life, I instinctively imagine myself as somehow floating above it: when I change environments, I imagine I'm not changing.
But we are fundamentally enmeshed with our place, with where we find ourselves. And these places are deeply enmeshed with us. Space is not a neutral background on which we lay our chairs, rugs, bodies, lives. Space — place — is not the stage upon which our lives play. Space is part of the play, and an integral part at that.
As a perhaps odd aside on that, this is one reason I really love the Pirates of the Caribbean films: with each new film, a piece of the presumed background becomes an active player in the action — the boat is alive, the water is alive. Which is to say, the action doesn't take place on the ship or on the water; it takes place with the ship, with the water.
I was recently in the town I grew up in. I realized that while there I avoid certain places, those places where so much of my youth happened. This time, I went to what I consider the epicenter of said activity. Just approaching it, my body began to hum, my heart beat. I sat in the spot I'd sat a thousand times — a spot where kisses and drinks and drugs and loves long gone all took place.
And all of a sudden, I found myself davening — rocking back and forth as if in Jewish prayer — and soon tears were rolling down my face. And you might say that it's the memories that were the cause. But what is a memory? Where is a memory? I'll tell you: my memories are not solely in my head. They are in this place, part of this place.
And now I find myself moving, leaving a neighborhood I've lived in for over 19 years. I walk those streets I once roamed so freely and they quite literally transform my 41 year old, bald self into a 25 year old jewfroed wonder boy. And now that I'm leaving, I am overwhelmed, as if breaking out of a cocoon — only, instead of a butterfly, I'll just be a bald 41 year old hebe living alone in the middle of nowhere.
But what's surprising is that I am constantly surprised by the penetrating depth, the profound resonance, of the emotion I feel. I mean, of course I should be emotional about it. After all, we live with space, with place — and it lives with us. And yet.
To move is not just to transform one's environment; it is, necessarily, to transform oneself. But we have no ritual to mark this transformation; we talk about it in terms of getting good rent, a cool view. the hassles of moving a couch.
But we tend not to talk about the mourning, and all that that entails.