80: Sometimes Bliss Is a Place

80: Sometimes Bliss Is a Place

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Sometimes Bliss Is a Place

You can fall in love at first sight with a place as with a person.

~Alec Waugh

I’ve always been something of a wanderer. I’ve lived in a lot of different places, most of them interesting... but none of them permanent. Of course, unlike other sensible wanderers, I’ve also accumulated artifacts of my interesting homes, mostly in the form of books.

Books, as even the most casual observer would agree, make moving around a little more of a daunting proposition. Well, that’s true, at least for normal, sane people. Not for me, however, which says something about my sanity: I accumulate books the way other people accumulate postcards, and I’ve always been undaunted by my library. The inevitable result is that I know more about packing and carrying cartons of books than do most moving professionals. Put them in storage? Surely you’re not serious! My books are my friends, creased and underlined and marked up, read and re-read and quoted and shared. Where I go, they go.

So I spent years moving about and happily experiencing various lives and loves and accumulating wisdom, experience... and more books. And while every place I lived touched me in some way, I always left when it felt like it was time to leave.

Minor digression: the English author Phil Rickman, one of my favorite people in the world, writes amazing suspense novels that are guaranteed to keep you up late at night — I highly recommend them — but one of the things that’s the most noticeable in his books is their venues. The landscape, the place, is as much a character in his stories as are any of the people.

I love reading about the places he describes, about those remote places he makes accessible to me, and I’ve always felt instantly connected to the places he writes about; but at the end of the day I couldn’t particularly relate to them. And so I packed my Phil Rickman books with the rest of my library and moved again. And again.

And then I went to spend a winter in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Provincetown is truly land’s end — it’s at the tip of Cape Cod, and it feels like the tip of the world. It’s the first place that the Pilgrims landed, well before Plymouth, and the last place one reaches before the Atlantic Ocean... beyond it, there’s nothing but waves and whales before Portugal. It’s not a place that people come by accident; no one “happened” to stop there as they were passing through, because it’s not a place that’s on the way anywhere else.

People, I learned, go to Provincetown deliberately: to heal, to find love, to find peace, to find themselves. People go there to live and they go there to die. But no one is there accidentally.

Provincetown is at the edge of land, the edge of the sea, the edge of the world. And there I went, thinking that I was going to a quiet place to spend the winter, an isolated wild place to write. Nothing more than that.

Almost magically, my first morning there, I innocently tuned my stereo to the local community radio station and heard Dave Carter’s song “Gentle Arms of Eden” and after that I went down to walk out on the pier and by the harbor and... well, the reality is that something happened.

Perhaps I merged the lyrics of the song I’d just heard — words that talked about this being my home, my only home, sacred ground that I’d be walking on — and perhaps I integrated Phil Rickman’s sense of place, which so permeated my consciousness, but suddenly I was enveloped by an incredible warmth, an amazing sense of being exactly where I should be. And — this was new for me — not just “where I should be right now,” but, rather, “where I should be. Period.”

As the days passed, the feeling intensified, and with it a sense of wellbeing that I had never experienced before. This was where I belonged, where I fit in, just like a missing piece to a puzzle.

I got involved in the community, met people, made friends. I walked the beach in the vilest weather, my coat wrapped tightly around me, the sand stinging my face, and I never felt so alive. I sat in my aerie and wrote and wrote and wrote... finishing the novel I’d originally gone there to write, and letting more projects flow and fall into place... a short story, an article, essays, poems... it was as though the place had unlocked everything that was real and vital and creative inside me.

And after months and months of living there — after years and years of wandering — I finally put down roots and bought a house. An old sea captain’s house, built in 1835, where I finally built the library of my dreams, floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with my friends, filled with stories and tales and information that fed my life and imagination.

And as I settled in, suddenly I understood Phil Rickman’s portrayal of place as a character in a story, for I felt that I was entering into a relationship with this place. Every day I woke up and was immediately aware of where I was, enjoying the sun shining through my windows and illuminating the myriad spines of books on my shelves, and realizing that within ten minutes I could be walking on a beach on the ocean side of the Cape.

And I fell in love.

So many people attach their bliss to falling in love with a person. That is the fairytale mentality of western civilization, but that’s not what happened to me: I became happy once I fell in love with this place.

The world — the wide world that I’d spent most of my life exploring — suddenly became focused on one place. All my life, I’d been looking for something, and I never knew what it was... and then, suddenly, I seemed to have found it, without ever having articulated — even to myself — what I was looking for.

And yet I finally found happiness in this place. Every morning I wake up and smile, because I live in paradise and get to spend my day doing exactly what I love doing. I start my days early, with a walk on the beach where I watch the sun rise, no matter what the weather is: I love the ocean in the calm summer months as well as in the wild winter ones. The sun up, I go back to my wonderful house where I eat and drink and start writing. In summer months, I watch the bees from my hives fly out on their mission to pollinate the vineyard next to where I live; in winter, I look out over undisturbed snow and stillness and beauty. And no matter what the season, it all encompasses me in its embrace: this is where I belong. As those long-ago words from Dave Carter’s song told me, this is sacred ground.

I’ve found my happiness, my bliss. I was raised to believe that I would find it in another person, and that has not happened; but I have found it in a place, my home, my very being.

And that’s not such a bad thing after all.

~Jeannette de Beauvoir

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