We all have sacred places. They rest as a subtle layer below a place everyone can see. We are more aware of them when we are children, when a playground transforms into a faraway world, the car into a ship gliding across the sky we watch passing by the window and clouds dance from shape to shape playing with our senses. Then we get older, we put aside the adventures of children and pretend to be more sophisticated, beyond such things.
Sacred places survive regardless of our belief in them.
Even as adults we all have some place that speaks to our soul, a place where God is somehow a little closer, better able to hear us, or so we perceive. These places give us hope in hard times, peace during turmoil and open so many doors in our mind, closed by our own hand. They have the same magic they had when we were children, our perception of them has just changed. Take a moment and picture your sacred place.
Mine is Hampton Park, tucked away in downtown Charleston. It is a colorful oasis, bordered by homes and city streets, The Citadel bordering it on one side. Ponds and ducks, flowers and willows, magnolias and memorials to heroes rest in their own special places in one of the oldest cities in America. The park has comforted me during a divorce, been the place I have spoken to God, fallen in love and invoked the muses.
It is also the place where I reconnected with The Founder of the Tribe, Hilary Johnson, and had an amazing conversation with my friend, the only kind I know with her.
I met Hilary as Connection 72, having had to reschedule when Hurricane Florence conspired to stop us from meeting. Since that initial meeting I have followed Hilary's live videos and writings on social media vehemently, as well as spending some time with her and Hatch Tribe at their annual holiday celebration, which I later wrote about for this blog. (It was amazing!)
It is easy to give Hilary a passing glance and see a beautiful, strong and capable woman, someone vibrant, full of life, a fighter. Before I ever met her that was all clear. Initial impressions are notoriously superficial and anyone who would only give Hilary a passing glance, while they would see beauty, would miss the greatest measure of what makes her stunning.
My friend has one of the most wonderful hearts, truly seeking to build and help others, to embrace them as they walk a path she has walked herself. That amazing heart is paired with a wondrous mind, an intellect that is luminescent, dancing like lightning strikes in the desert, with ideas and observations, the distillation of years of wisdom. In this sacred place, where my mind is always more open, our conversation becomes more than a walk and a chat, something undefinable and immeasurably precious.
Hilary talks to me about the changes I have had happen as a result of this project, about the things I have learned and the new way in which I view the world. She tells me about the shifts she has had over the years and wonder how her opinions will change more in the coming years. Time and experience expose us to new thoughts and often shift our thinking. So many of us were absolute idealists as children and even into our teenage years, only to have those ideals challenged later as we grow. Often we believe our ideals were perfect, only to discover that the world, and our experiences therein, have shifted us to believe new truths, to take up new causes, to discover true purpose.
As we walk through the park, I wonder how my ideas and beliefs will shift in the next year? And the one after that?
Hilary tells me about how it really is all a matter of perspective, both having our own as well as trying to understand the perspective of others. That can often be the hardest part really, mostly because self-righteousness feels so damn good. We tend to get stuck in our own presuppositions and judgements, viewing the world from our perspective and just discounting those viewpoints of others. It's easy, often fun, and imminently more self-glorifying than thinking we might be wrong.
It's something Hilary has worked on, and understands must be constantly worked on. Other perspectives have two wondrous characteristics; they are seemingly infinite in number and constantly challenging our own.
I tell her about how many arts organizations I have been involved in over the years, how so many of them have died slow deaths because they were unwilling to ask for help. Hatch Tribe has found its stride and is actually thriving, something that I admire in any organization founded for purpose, but that is not the majority or the norm from what I have seen. Hilary tells me the secret is simple; learning to share ideas instead of choking them to death because we are afraid of them being stolen.
As she speaks those words, I hear the voice of my old mentor Mike, who taught me something very similar as a young writing student. The voice of a past mentor echoing in the voice of a new one.
She is right about this, as was Mike, sharing our ideas is the best way in which we can receive help from others. It seems so simple, and as all simple things mastery of the concept becomes hard because there is no room to hide in the concept. In the same sense we talk about people who want to help and yet often spend their time waiting for an opportunity rather than asking how they can help. Simplicity is far more difficult than complexity to master.
As we start the final stretch of our walk, Hilary tells me about knowing your skill set. She tells me about how she often wishes she could be the firebrand, or some other role, and yet she finds her way back to her skillset, to her superpowers, and uses them to achieve the same end. My friend points out to me that it is in knowing our skills, our roles to be played, that we can be the most effective, the happiest and most fulfill our purpose.
Hampton park holds a memorial to Denmark Vesey, a leader of African-Americans in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries in Charleston. As a skilled carpenter, freed slave and leader in the AME church, Vesey has left a legacy that has honestly not received nearly enough attention. As my friend talks about knowing your skills and your purpose I can't help but think of this man, his legacy and contribution. My mind fills with images of the candles on his memorial after the Emmanuel Nine shooting, at a church he had built the first incarnation of, mourning a friend I lost in that massacre.
A single person in their skill set, with their purpose, can change the world far beyond their lifetime.
I hug my friend and wish her well with this thought in my mind, knowing someone in the decades after we are all long gone will think the same thing about her.