Our feelings are attached to places and dates, dates in both senses of the term. People with a good memory can even tell you the room or moment when particular words were spoken — when the mood or lighting altered because a relationship changed.
First meetings, last meetings, and relational drama become almost like a portion of the architecture and appearance of the place where they happened. The spot takes on an emotional resonance out of proportion to what a stranger would notice.
No wonder the counselor’s office becomes part of your alliance with him. Even your time slot in his schedule organizes your life and attaches to the experience of therapy. His consulting room is not just a place where memories are uncovered but where they are made.
If you’ve ever owned a home or lived anywhere for a long while, you may have returned soon after you left. Maybe your route from work put you on the old path without thinking.
Others go back consciously, though not sure what draws them. Some want to revisit an unforgotten ineffable quality associated with this material segment of their history. Or perhaps they still search for the events that happened there or the one or ones with whom they occurred.
The evoked sentiments loom larger than the manufactured creation. They make the edifice small by comparison.
An older woman I know, someone I am close to, visited Chicago decades after leaving for the suburbs, then California, and finally Nebraska. When arriving her first time back, she wanted to see the old neighborhood we both inhabited and the “other house” where her teenage years transpired.
This charming lady’s youth and home life were troubled, but not so for the earliest years near my family. Her parents wished to rise in the world, motivating their departure from the north side of the “Windy City.”
The dad, in particular, had been marked by poverty. Adult ambition took them all to a posh Chicago suburb, where parental conflict, poor parenting, debt, and the father’s illness and early death damaged everyone. The best part of her life remained back in the old dwelling on Talman Avenue, the street where I knew her.
The status-driven designer house was supposed to make all their lives better, but when our tour stopped in front of it, the recollections embedded in the place bubbled up. A flood of tears followed. Once she caught her breath, she said, “For this.”
They’d moved from a location where she had friends and felt accepted and acceptable, where her parents got along with each other: a place where the idea of home meant safety.
The exit from West Rogers Park leading to the family’s new chapter became a loss, not the betterment expected. The ensuing unhappiness tied itself to the new site.
The finer set of walls, rooms, and a circular driveway brought no satisfaction, no lofty place in the world. This was the graveyard of hope, not its fulfillment.
The therapist sometimes enables people to feel they are worthy of love after a lifetime of believing they are broken, ugly, or stupid — “too sensitive,” disturbed, or weak. The fact of being valued can cause outsized affection, transference, perhaps love of the one who assisted in the process.
When the treatment ends, it isn’t uncommon for the client to wish to take something physical — a small piece of its contents, a “thing,” but one containing personal meaning.
This desire is similar to small children holding on to their blanket or a stuffed animal to calm them when the parent isn’t available. But saying goodbye to the counselor is different.
The article given by the clinician is a transitional object and also something more, intended to preserve indescribable emotions indefinitely. Mom and dad return, but from the healer, there is a parting.
Momentos needn’t be beautiful to carry the significance of the people and moments we retrieve from those inanimate creations, the sentiment they offer. We also remember places, sometimes unremarkable, because of those beside us when we were there — the beloved parents, partners, and pals of our lives.
When the Madison and Wabash elevated train platform underwent deconstruction and remodeling, I could not look at it without recalling my dad. He and I stood on the now-discarded wooden planks many times and at many different ages.
I doubt I will ever see that station without thoughts of him, though the boards on which we trod have disappeared.
I imagine there are such locations in your life. They become part of us.
Are the things intended to catch lightning in a bottle — the electric charge of human contact?
The best possible “bottle” evokes emotion in touch with the heart. Perhaps, too, “sessions of sweet silent thought,” as Shakespeare would say.
When you are old and ridding yourself of worn-out objects and stuff of no value, I suspect you will keep those beyond price because they carry this special kind of magic.
The photo of the old Madison and Wabash “L” (Elevated Train) Station is the work of David Wilson. The image was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
For those who don’t know the Chicago “Loop,” the term first referred to the area within the “L” train’s loop-like route around the city’s downtown center.