photo friday: the sad place

Posted by on August 17, 2012

If you have not read Amber’s blog entry about “the sad place,” posted last week, I would recommend doing so. The lesson is simple but true, and wise, and I myself have thought a lot about this process of integrating all that my life has been– the good, the bad, the lovely, the dramatic, the dull, the glowing, the ugly. All of these are asking to be accepted, and like the persistent widow will not stop knocking on my door until I have assigned them rightful places on my map. And from the perspective of a parent, I would say that helping children to do this work of integration as they go along is such a gift. Oh, to arrive at adulthood without a huge backlog of disparate emotions and experiences to integrate. 

A few days ago I received a really beautiful and wonderfully descriptive email from a friend of mine who is from New Zealand, and is currently there visiting her family. We met in South Bend while our husbands were both doing their PhDs and connected in that instant-friend way. In her email she wrote, 

While you are sweltering in that awful heatwave, we are quite cold in winter here. The hills are emeralds and it has rained since we arrived–Mum+Dad’s place is surrounded by olive-tree covered hills which I love to walk up. Each day I look at them and can see the rain against their darkness and I can tell if it is too heavy for a walk or if the rain is misty enough to only dust us.

Isn’t that beautiful? If she is reading this I sincerely hope she doesn’t mind me quoting her (somewhat anonymously). I quote it partially because most of the time I knew this friend, she was living in South Bend, Indiana, like me, and struggling with the lack of beauty and interest in the town, and missing her country. And like me, her husband just got an academic job (in Scotland!) so she will not be returning to South Bend. 

I do not mean to dump on the city of South Bend, or to be unkind– not at all. Both of my children were born there; I lived there for six years. I made some of the most meaningful friendships of my life there, found a lovely community there, and I did grow to love my life there. But now that it grows smaller and smaller in the backwards telescope of time, I do see it as a somewhat “sad place,” in the narrative of my own particular story. However, it was also a place of tremendous growth and pruning, which prepared me somehow for new things– the things I experienced in DC, and the things I am experiencing now. I see that very clearly now. I needed that sad place for a while. Because sad places are also thoughtful places, inward places. They are necessary places. 

I didn’t have time this week to take new photos specifically for this theme, so yet again I am cobbling together some old ones from years ago in South Bend. I have no desire to blot out this time of my life from the annals of memory. On the contrary, I feel it sitting on the map of my soul, like a heavy, misty, grey continent, floating like a manatee in the waters of my soul-map. Its quiet gravitational pull, its deprivations, are a metaphor for all the sad places. They are inherently connected to–are the very underbelly–of beauty and possibility and determination– the reason we are able to say, by some miracle: “Glory to God for all things.”
  1. Manuela
    August 17, 2012

    Oh, how many times I thought of SOuth Bend as "the sad place". And yet I spent 8 years of my life there. 8 YEARS!
    It was my life and the first few years of my kids life. I just have to see it as that and embrace it, too. But I am so glad I am not there anymore. Sometimes, when I forget about the good that came out of the time there, I often wish we would have spent those years in a nicer place. But then I look at myself and who I am now, and I know that because of the years in South Bend, I am a much more content, thankful, and stronger person now. And I appreciate beauty even more.

  2. A M B E R
    August 17, 2012

    I love seeing these photos again as part of "a sad place" b/c it did seem like SB had that quality in your life… Maybe like a holding cell where you wait for years doing push ups and sit ups, growing stronger but never really at home, at ease. I hope SL gives you so much more in the way of happiness and ease!

  3. Molly Sabourin
    August 17, 2012

    Such a beautiful and relatable post, Julia. I think most of us could point back to a "South Bend" experience – to a place that was a little more stretching than we'd anticipated. I used to daydream to the point of tears when I lived in Chicago with four tiny kids of some elusive town or spacious house that would finally feel like "home." And yet as much as I was dying to escape it, Chicago can still fill me with a nostalgia so intense. Like Amber, I wish for you much happiness and contentedness in Saint Louis.

    And your photos, by the way, work so well together! I enjoyed them!