Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Power of Place

I was thinking the other day about the importance of buildings, and how we put so much sentimental value into them. I don't remember where I was or what triggered my thinking, but I remembered two places - my Grandparents' house, and my trip to Charleston, SC, a few years ago.

When my Grandparents sold their house in November, I was extremely sad. Not just because I knew it was a sign that they were getting older and probably wouldn't be with us much longer, but because I knew that in their neighborhood, the old houses don't stay (except for the REALLY old houses, and their house wasn't one of those). I'm sure it will be torn down and something fresher, more modern, and lot-filling will spring up in its place.

It's hard to give up a building like that. Not because it's prime real estate, of that I am glad because it means that my Grandpa (and, therefore, my parents) never has to worry about money again. No, it's because of the buildings. Every room, every corner, every inch of flooring holds a memory for me. Rolling down what used to be the hill in the backyard when I was five, then swimming in the pool that later took the place of the hill. Santa Claus brushing my cheek as I slept next to the Christmas tree in the living room. Painting sweatshirts with Grandma at the kitchen table. Running, screaming from excitement and fear after seeing the statue in the closet under the stairs. So many memories.

Several years ago, I spent 10 days in Charleston to attend a software training class. During that time, I had the opportunity to do a lot of sightseeing. I went to a lot of old buildings, places where a lot of history happened. I don't remember the names of all the buildings now, but I remember a little about what happened there. These places represented great times in our history, and they represented tragic times. I stood where George Washington stood, and I stood where Civil War shots were fired. I stood in slave houses, single, small rooms with a dirt floor, barely the size of my bedroom, where whole families lived, and I stood in a basement that was once a prison, where people were chained to walls and sat on a dirt floor.

They're just buildings. Wood, stone, plaster. Inanimate, unfeeling. And yet, they have so much life in them. These are powerful places. You can read about them in books, see them on TV, and yet when you are actually there, when you stand in the place where you know things have happened, it's so alive, so, well, real.

There's power in places. There's magic in structures. History is real.

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