A Sense of Place

March 20, 2015

“The future ain’t what it used to be.” – Yogi Berra

STUFF I KNOW BY ME © Kathleen McKern Verigin

A Sense of Place

My mom used to drive me crazy when she’d identify a place by what it used to be. Not what it is now, but what it was in the past. “You know, where the old Penney’s used to be.” It was helpful information once I no longer lived in Ames, Iowa. But, still, the way she identified places annoyed me. I mentally accused her of living in the past. What was underlying that irritation? A new thought came to me yesterday.

I had to drive from our home in SW Portland to a dentist appointment in NW Portland. Before merging onto I-5, I was struck by the sight of a new gas station. It seemed to have emerged over night. Rather than seeing it for what it is, my thoughts identified it by the various venues it used to be. On the other side of the street, I noticed a gas station that had recently been leveled. What will it become, I wondered?

Soon I was on the freeway, skirting the edge of downtown. I marveled over all the high rises on the water front. Suddenly my mind was flooded with memories of what those areas used to be like. I missed the shorelines of the river, plus the clear views of the downtown high rises and Mt. St. Helens far in the distance. All are now obscured. I wondered, with a wee bit of judgement, who lives in those tall narrow sky scrapers that are interfering with my sense of contentment?

Once off the freeway, I meandered through the bustling streets of NW Portland. That’s where I first lived when I migrated to Oregon forty years ago. Then the thoughts came again. That used to be my pharmacy. That used to be the vacant lot where I sun tanned. That used to be a tacky pub that I would scoot by because of the sketchy clientele.

Suddenly, with a chuckle, I was aware that I was, like my mom, recognizing places from what they used to be rather than what they are now. That’s when the new thought came. It’s the good old Irish sense of “place,” a major tenet of Celtic Spirituality. A strong connection to the land and its history, both recent and ancient. Mix in my human tendency to want a place to stay the same. And that’s not how Life works. It’s always in motion. Fluid, like the ebbing and flowing of the oceans, and the changing seasons. A reminder to be aware of the past and open to the future, while living in the present moment.

The next time my mind wants to identify a place by what it used to be, I plan to take a deep breath, put on a pleasant smile, and say hello to what it is now.

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