Friday, October 25, 2019

"I Know This Place!"

We all shape and are shaped by the community in which we live. We are both the cause and effect of, among other things, our local culture, commerce, politics, and religion. Those of us who have always lived in a single place or who have raised children in a place are typically aware of the impact of place in our lives, for better or worse. Transplants and nomads often feel they are more a part of a place they have left behind or that they are the product of many places, never fully at home in any, but our current place, wherever that is, is shaping us nevertheless, even if that shape is into an antithesis.

This is even more true for young children, I think, because this place, right here, right now, is the only place they know: this house, this neighborhood, this school, this town or city. They lack the experience to know other places the way they know this one and they lack the cynicism to be judgmental. This place, its rights and wrongs, its ups and downs, its strengths and follies, is their whole world, and they are, as humans, driven to make it their own, to understand and absorb it. I've known many transplanted parents, aghast at the place they find themselves, who strive to prevent their children from learning certain aspects of the local culture, language, or values, only to find that they've set themselves an impossible task, with their children often becoming more "Seattle" or "American" than those of us who have always lived here.

Last week, on a drizzly day, tourist season and its attendant crowds dissipated for the winter, we hopped a bus for a 10 minute trip to Seattle Center. Our primary destination was the playground with it's giant slides, but we all knew that there was more to this place than that. Of course, we also played in the International Fountain, some of us becoming drenched, which is as traditional an activity as our city offers. We tried to climb the humped backs of the bronze orca whales that emerge from the pavement. We passed through the Center House which is always scented by an overwhelming and familiar perfume of grilled meat and caramelized sugar. We checked out the monorail at its station, enthusiastically telling stories to one another of rides we have taken on it. There was a robot statue there that I had never noticed before, but with which the children seemed to already be familiar. We stood at the foot of the Space Needle, arching our back to take it in.

"I've already been here!"

"I've done this before!"

"I know this place!"

This wasn't the first time any of the children have been here, even if it was the first time this particular group had come together. It was hard to ignore the reality that this place is a part of who we are, as we played in our neighborhood. Making this place and being made by it, knowing it and being known by it, that is what makes a place home.

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