“Where’s your happy place?” I am asked today.

Of course my answer is, “Right here, right now at my little retreat in New Hampshire.”

It's Real Here

Here, Now

And yet, if you read my journal over the past week since I’ve been here, you’ll see that “happy” does not always apply.

Oh, there are times of unspeakable joy, joy that God has even made such a place — and such colors! And joy that this is my little plot of land and that I can spend time here and write. Happy dance!

Still, it does seem that every time I get here, something dreadful happens. Mass shootings are common, landslides and earthquakes, young black kids being shot dead in the street, Robin Williams ending his life. This week, in addition to yet another mass shooting (thank you, NRA), two dear friends of mine lost their beloved nephew: A cheerful, promising twenty-two year old goes to bed and never wakes up.

Really, God?

I think the impact of such shocks and losses is exacerbated when I’m alone up here. I have friends that I see in town, and wonderful neighbors who welcome me into their families and often ask me to dinner. But mostly I’m alone, and I like it that way. I consider it my reward for being an introvert called to a very extroverted lifestyle. It’s my escape.

I can spend more time praying and meditating and reading spiritual literature when I’m here, and I’m better at living in the present moment than I am at home. Perhaps that’s why I feel more intensely, the happy and the sad. I’m more connected with God and with my true self and my true feelings.

Here, now, me.

But also, there, then, them.

Never Really Alone

As much as I embrace the present moment here, I am also immersed in the past, surrounded by ghosts. I’ve spent summer days here all my life, and the house is full of echoes and spirits, laughter and tears.

Of my grandmother, who bought the house in 1940 after her husband died in a dreadful fire at sea; of my Mom and Aunt Val, who painted and repaired and cherished this old place until they passed on; of tweedy uncles smelling of pipe tobacco and patronizing their sweet-smelling wives all dusty with face powder; of my cousin Averil who grew up in the house, died at fifty, and is buried under the apple tree out back.

And now of my brother Biff, whose active imagination bubbled over in this place, like a fine champagne released from its bottle. So many memories of him decked out in safari hats or top hats, red velvet smoking jackets or army uniforms, brandishing swords or walking sticks or African spears, and spouting Britishisms. One-of-a-kind Biff who could always, always make me laugh.

Laughter

Laughter

Always Room For Laughter

The memories can make me  happy, but there’s an undercurrent of grief in this place. I’ve always felt it. The fellow who lived here in the 1700s was kicked in the head by a cow and died. I think he still roams around, too.

My Mom stopped wanting to come here when she got old. Too sad, she said. But she didn’t like being alone — I do. I just have to take care of myself. When I get depressed or anxious (a remnant of Biff-grief that’s gradually lessening), I go out for a walk, or I light a fire and read one of the dusty antique books shoved into every nook and cranny of this house.

Life is real here; I’m real here. Happy and sad, sometimes both at the same time.

It’s surely a happy place when my nephew arrives with his noisy kids, which is happening this weekend. I expect there will be safari hats and African spears and Britishisms, because life goes on, silliness seems to be genetic, and this old house always has room for laughter.

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So – where is YOUR happy place? Check out some others at this week’s photo challenge.

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