The Center of the Universe

my piece of sky

Song From A Secret Garden by Secret Garden

On the other side of that window was a desk and that is where some of my most important thoughts — which to me were enormous life events — happened. Now the house stands abandoned, paint chipping away, having exhaled all the life it once held many years ago.

I watched a documentary about abandoned places once. A builder walked through the halls of a college somewhere in the northeast. There was no longer any funding from the state to keep the school opened, so they closed it, sold off all that could be salvaged, and left it a shell. He walked through, trying to determine whether or not something could be done with the building or if it would have to be demolished.

He said something that has stayed with me, about how when human life leaves a place, when there are no more people in a house or a store or an institution, something happens. It doesn’t take long for the place to start to fall down. I don’t know whether it will be by nature or by man’s intervention, but I don’t think it will be long before the house I grew up in falls to the ground.

The first time I shared this photo was in March of 2008. I called it “My Piece of Sky” in reference to the song from Yentl. The view from the other side of that window is limited. In the summer, leafy trees block much of the view, but in the winter when all the leaves are gone, you can look past their dark skeletons and see a tiny group of hills that lie to the north.

That room was my favorite place to be. If I wasn’t outdoors with my brothers, I could be found there, reading. Almost always reading. Or listening to music or writing. Sometimes a combination.

The room changed over the years. Coats of paint, new curtains, a different configuration of furniture. But there was always that vanity table turned desk sitting right there in front of that north facing window.

First it was those marbled composition notebooks. Filled to the brim with poems and stories and words I would never share with another soul. How many novels did I start in those things? Somewhere there is a Kool-Aid stained manuscript that I was awfully proud of at the time. Then a computer and floppy disks. And finally…the Internet. It was the first week of May 2000 and I was getting over pneumonia.

In The Time Traveler’s Wife, there is this theme of returning to one place. Henry (the time traveler) circles around through time landing in the field near Clare’s house in different years. You get a sense of why he shows up in certain places over the years, but it’s almost the end before you understand why this one place is so important. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the ending of this for you, so I will leave you with my impression of the whole thing.

For some people, there is a center of the universe — the axis upon which their world turns — the place where some of the most important moments happened. I think mine is that room, that desk, that chair. I know not everyone has the luxury of knowing a place like this. This room only saw my Act I. I don’t know where the next place is.

Here is an exercise for you — think of the one place in the world where you could stand and get the best view of your life. Where is it? Why is this the place? What are the things you can witness from this vantage point?

8 Replies to “The Center of the Universe”

  1. I just adore your writing. It moves me. I read this earlier today and have been thinking about my answers to these questions. Just beautiful.

  2. I used to say my hometown, but now that I’ve moved so far away, it’s shifted to a park in Nashville called Centennial Park. That is my refuge and I long to live closer so I can visit more often, but that it’s possible right now.

  3. Elizabeth, your recollections reminded me of the desk my Dad built for me, tucked into the slant of the roof in the upstairs bedroom that my sister and I shared. It was intended for homework, but I spent more time huddled over my notebooks writing stories than doing math. However, my center of the universe was down by the creek.

    Perhaps that’s why my axis shifted to where I am now, overlooking Lake Eufaula. I’ve never felt more “centered” than here in Oklahoma., surrounded by water and words.

  4. Love this post. Beautiful thoughts and picture. I’m not sure where I could get the best view of my life. I have to think about that one for a little while.

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