My bench is situated next to an old, old tree, with roots that snake into the ground around it and a trunk that stands like a monument to the passage of time. Except it’s actually two trunks, backed up against each other, one faint groove running from roots to branches as the only evidence that they were once separate. As I sat staring up at its branches today, cicadas thrumming in the background, I started to notice for the first time, after three years, that the leaves on each side of the tree were different. That’s the thing about some place we’re familiar with – sometimes we still only see what we want it to be, not the details that make it what it is.
My bench is weathered, the stain has peeled off in places. Across from me stands a magnolia tree, magnificent and bold, fanning its leaves over a statuette of a woman I don’t know, but I like to think by now we’re old friends. The bell tower of Kirkland to my left, the circle flower garden on my right, the history department building at my back. My bench is the center of campus, for me: it holds this world I’ve built here together. It’s my stopping point, my stillness. It’s where I do most of my talking to Jesus, or maybe where He does the most of His talking to me.
Back in Chicago, my bench is the bird sanctuary down the road from our neighborhood. In the summer, the trails are beaten down and weathered by the rain and the increase of horses and runners. I’m not much of a runner, but I run them all the same. There’s a particular stretch, where you come to the top of a hill and watch the grass ripple in the wind below you, herons skim across the surface of the pond, and I breathe it all in.
In Buenos Aires, my bench became a little coffee shop by my houses, El Montañes. It was the kind of place only locals visit, but I lived local so I acted local and the waiters knew better but by the third time I was there, they’d learned my order anyways. I brought my Bible and some homework and I took a spot by the window and ordered a pot of black tea. I stayed as long as they’d let me some days, and on others I stayed just long enough to steady myself before leaping back into the lifeblood of the city streets.
I’m only just starting to realize that everywhere I go, I find myself a bench. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that means we’re seeking solace, and I think that’s just a fancy way of saying us alone with God. Sometimes you need a certain setting, a distinct disconnect from the things of this world weighing on us, in order to say it that way.
I don’t know where I’ll be living next year, but it’s comforting to know that my bench will always be there. My cafe, my trails will always be there, even though I’m not. I’ve found my bench before and I’ll find it again, because I can’t stay away from sitting alone God for long before it starts to show. That’s what the benches in our lives are for: not for us to be alone, but for us to be known.