One of my favorite books as a kid was Bridge to Terabithia, a story of two young friends who overcome their troubled lives to create their own magical kingdom—called Terabithia—in the woods behind their homes. As I recall, the story is 80% friendship, magic, and wonder and 20% struggle, isolation, loss, and extreme sadness, especially near the end, because [spoiler alert] one of the two drowns. The story ends with the devastated friend creating a memorial to his fallen friend, getting the chance to help someone else (like she helped him), and deciding to invite that new person into Terabithia. He was so changed by their friendship that he couldn’t go back to the old self he knew, because the old him was gone.
As a kid, the struggle, isolation, loss, and extreme sadness parts of the story were sad, and yet they also made me feel honored—honored that a grownup author would so trust me to be ok with these parts of life too. Most of my experience of adults was of being shielded and protected from the loss and sadness parts of life. This story was new. This was an adult sharing more of the whole of life with me. I was part of something vaster than I’d imagined, and I was honored by the inclusion, the invitation into this world. My world.
Beyond feeling honored, the parts of the story that stayed in my memory as time passed were the parts I knew best as a child: friendship, magic, and wonder.
As kids, we were experts at these things. We had magic places like these everywhere. As a kid you couldn’t throw a rock in my neighborhood without hitting a Terabithia-like place. Magic places that adults simply couldn’t see: some tiny, some vast, some physical locations, and others entirely within our imaginations.
Every willow tree was, by its nature, a fort. Once inside, grownups literally couldn’t see us.
One neighbor had a tree house with a rope ladder we could pull up to keep the little kids out.
We raced across a corn field to the crumbling, moss-covered foundation of a long-gone farm house in a stand of trees behind our edge-of-the-city neighborhood.
We performed last-rites ceremonies at the mouse, bird, hamster, and bug cemetery in another stand of trees near my friend Amy’s house.
We visited a very old man–whose name I never knew but who listened to our adventures and shared his bananas with us—who lived in the basement apartment next door to my friend Lori’s house.
When I was 10, inspired by the book, my friend Kristi and I actually made our own Terabithia in the trees beside her grandma’s house. We spent a lot of time building it, decorating it, eating in it, and guarding it from dragons (mostly her little brother and my little sister, sorry guys) and only abandoned it when the South Dakota winter snows made all its lovely carpet remnants smell really bad.
We knew how to create and sustain Terabithias as children. We found them within ourselves and let them go–with just a touch of sadness–to move on to new ones.
Until this summer, I hadn’t consciously thought about the Bridge to Terabithia story for years. Then Tabitha showed up—bringing fun craft projects into our home/neighborhood coworking space, and I said to her “You’re making our home feel like Terabithia!” The word just showed up like an old friend, as did Tabitha.
Now, almost everywhere I go, almost everywhere I look, I see Terabithia. My own world.
The people who come into our free community coworking space are all pirates, playmates, friends, and neighbors now.
I see Terabithia in our drinks on the front porch, board game playing, movie nights, potlucks, BBQs, and pumpkin carving. In backyard bartering and cider pressing and dessert buffets and festivals. In connecting via Facebook, under the covers at midnight, to commiserate when we get scared. In Chris’ face when he gets excited or frustrated by a new game. I see it even in the online links friends send me: in artwork and music and theater and dance and poetry and humor. Fisher recently sent me to see what the word Koinonia means and learn about its history. It’s pretty cool. You should look it up.
I find Terabithia in the tragedy and the sad stories too. Terabithia is there, too.
I also see Terabithia in the spaces around us.
At home, it’s everywhere. In my deep love of found objects: rocks, shells, drift wood, sticks.
In our practical love of old, inexpensive things: the $5 chairs I got at UWSurplus, a library of worn second-hand books, Daniel’s old cameras that have become works of art, Narisa’s flea market finds. In our love of things made by friends, and solidly made things that will out-live us: like the 500-year table that now sits in the dining room, the joyfully painted rocks on top of it, and in the artwork on our walls created by artist and photographer friends and by us ourselves.
I see Terabithia now, too, in all the places to sit and dream and read and play in our home, in our yard, and in our neighborhood. In the cozy chairs.
In the empty lots where we throw wild-flower seed balls and then anxiously wait for spring to see if flowers come up. In the rocks I can sit on. In the neighborhood pub that still has my 10-year-old-self’s go-to video game Qubert. In the little bike shop, and little movie theater, and little radio station, and coffee shops, and Earl’s barber shop where community is fed and thrives.
In the little orchid-like flowers on our rosemary plant (orchids!!).
And I also see an evolution in myself—a front garden designed to bring neighbors closer, not to keep dragons out. A front door held open wide, most days.
What does it take to create and sustain Terabithia?
It’s not the difficult, complicated, imPOSSible task adults think it is. Doesn’t take tons of time and money and outside experts and consultants and degrees. It doesn’t require utter seriousness, laser focus, group consensus, perfect connections, extreme efficiency, extra smart people, people agreeing on stuff, or a gap-free resume. Bleh.
This, my friends, is total bullshit. Lies.
Do not believe the grownups. They know not what they do.
I decided recently that getting a case of the grownups is far worse than getting the mumps or chicken pox or measles. Because for many, the grownups is the death of magic, wonder, and even friendship, and the stupid thing can last for decades! Eeew.
I create and sustain Terabithia.
An ocean in a single drop (thanks Rumi) me.
No resources—of any sort—that I don’t already have within me and around me are required. Cast out those grownup demons.
Kid you can look at a tree and see a fort, can look at an empty lot and see a playground, can find the time to slow down and speak thoughtful farewell words over the body of a dead insect, and share a banana and a story with someone feeling lonely.
If you have kid you, then you already have Terabithia. It’s in your pocket right now.