"The Accidental Labyrinth"
a short story by L. Lisa Lawrence
(author holds copyright on all material. Permission granted to link to original pages, please use contact link on webpage for any requests for reprinting or publishing)
The Accidental Labyrinth
She stood in the shadows.
There was a perfectly safe, well-lit space to wait in the Peace Garden. Only a moment ago, she stood for a brief moment in time, gazing at the pillar with the word “Peace” illustrated in several languages and contemplating what the world could be if people embraced this concept. This was the place that safety experts would say an unaccompanied woman “should” stand at night. It was the center of the garden, exposed to the city streets, well illuminated; a place where no potential attacker could approach without being seen and any call for help would be noticed an answered.
But it also exposed her to a world that was mostly foreign to her; a place that held no secrets and no adventure and that at times, seemed to display conspicuous consumption. She watched the valets parking the luxury cars that came to dine above the city and the eager sports enthusiasts heading towards the arena for a game. She saw the lights of the city and the hustle and bustle of crowds wandering by; and she felt naked and exposed.
This was not her space; it was not her energy. It was not where she belonged.
She silently retreated into the shadows away from the garishly lit concrete to the mossy cobbles surrounded by living growing things. The pace of the city and the blaring light was gone. She stood for a moment, inhaling the sweet scent of a night blooming plant that she could not identify. There was music in this garden, which was different from the somewhat intense rhythm of the city.
In the movement of just a few feet, she had placed herself among the plants, herbs and sculptures where she felt most at home. With the glare of the lights obscured, she gazed up at the nearly full waning moon. She was able to observe rather than to be observed, and she was comforted by the shadows and spirits that inhabited this place.
She was not afraid. She felt strong and confident in this tiny garden spot surrounded by the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. Nothing was going to hurt her here, and on the off chance that anything (or rather anyone) tried, it would not go well for them. For a moment, she giggled at the thought.
She looked up at the Space Needle, an engineering marvel back in 1962, the year she was born, when it was erected as an attraction for the Worlds Fair. Then she looked down at the high-heeled strappy sandals she was wearing with her frilly skirt that she had donned for the event she had just attended up there, 520 feet above the city of Seattle and the Puget Sound. It was appropriate dress for a social event at such a unique venue. The shoes and clothing that seemed so perfect just a few minutes ago seemed silly as she was trying to negotiate the cobbles in the garden while waiting for her meeting.
She giggled again to herself; this time at the rather glamorous and dramatic image of her skulking around in the dark waiting to meet a man for a seemingly clandestine meeting in the shadows of an often ignored garden as the rest of the world hurried by… oblivious to the beauty of this tiny piece of the natural world just a few feet away from them.
She stood there quietly and waited, until out of the corner of her eye she noticed…
( to be continued)
The man who was to complete this clandestine meeting in the shadows of the garden appeared. Enjoying her place in the shadows, she observed him for a moment. He strolled casually towards the garden from the busier areas of the Seattle Center with his daypack casually slung over one shoulder. His gate displayed the coolness that she noticed when she first met him. It was not an arrogant coolness, but rather the casual coolness of one who was comfortable in his own skin. If you asked him how comfortable he was, he may have told you, “Right now, not very” but the way he carried himself told a different story. He didn’t pretend to be anything he wasn’t. The gait was very typical of a Seattle Native. It was the cool casual walk of one who is familiar with his surroundings and embraces the diversity and uniqueness that Pacific Northwest culture provides. It was the gait of someone who loves to walk.
She could have observed longer. She had been trained in psychology and at one time had been a federal law enforcement officer. Reading and understanding the body language of others is what had kept her alive to this point in her life as well as something that greatly interested her. Her “gifts” were another matter entirely. She saw past people’s moods, perceptions of themselves and facades to who they really were at the level of their energy. The gift made her feel as is she was spying and somehow invading his privacy so she stopped. She called out to him and waived casually.
She stepped out of the shadows and greeted him. Some may have been startled by the sudden appearance of someone who was not there a moment before, but he was not. He was stressed out about other things and for good reason. However, the stress and outward influence could not mask the energy that she noticed the first time they met. He was a gentle person with music in his soul. Even in the midst of internal turmoil, his eyes danced and his smile displayed a deeper appreciation for life than most will ever know. The fact that he was not hard on the eyes did not escape her either.
She had felt a connection the first time they met. Sadly, it was at the wake of her best friend’s father, who also happened to be his best friend’s father. By being the best friends of siblings, they had a connection before they ever met in person. The first time they met they made music and sang together to honor the life of a very special man. There was an added connection there that only those who have made music together can understand. The other part of the connection was very similar to the connection made when she first met several of her very best friends. It was warm and comfortable and “just was”.
The meeting had been spur of the moment. She was attending an event a few blocks from his home that was to end early. She thought it might be fun to hang out before she headed back home to the “City of Destiny”. There was no plan, just a meeting that she had since dubbed “clandestine” because she got to lurk in the shadows and it sounded glamorous, dangerous and exciting. She loved spontaneous adventures; she felt that they are the best kind. They didn’t have a plan. After exchanging greetings and chit chatting about the day, she knew exactly the first thing she wanted to do. It was something that she had been thinking about for several days. She knew it was silly and maybe a bit crazy, but she couldn’t help but ask…
(to be continued)
Does the fountain run on weeknights?
The fountain in question is a joy to behold. She had spent many a summer day there watching children tempt fate by running towards the dome to touch it before, without warning, it sprayed a deluge of water on them. It sits in a basin in the square where one can walk down a spiraling ramp from the observation level to its depths where on can risk getting drenched if they venture too close.
Those that merely observe from the safety of ground level are treated to a water dance choreographed to music as well as the antics of those that choose to “live on the edge” and enter the bowels of the watery beast. As soon as they think they have the rhythm of the water figured out, it shoots to the sky with an explosive sound, drenching anyone in it’s path; and if the wind is blowing correctly, even those who think they are safely out of the way get soaked.
She wondered what the fountain would look like at night potentially illuminated by colored lights, water joyfully reaching toward the night sky, while music culminated in a dramatic crescendo.
If nothing else, he was a good sport. Amused by her childlike exuberance, they headed towards the fountain. It did not disappoint. There were indeed lights in the ground that colorfully illuminated the dancing waters. Being the evening before St. Patrick’s Day, the music it was choreographed to was Celtic. Being of Celtic blood, she had always been drawn to the music, it was in her heart, soul and DNA; it made the fountain’s dance even more exciting.
He further suggested that they wander down into the basin to walk alongside that tricky, water-spewing dome. She looked down at her silly high heel shoes and frilly skirt and decided that the idea of twisting her ankle was not appealing. Neither was being a stick in the mud and missing out on the experience; so she took off her stockings, stuffing them in the pockets of her North Face Jacket (a perfectly acceptable fashion statement over a cocktail dress in Seattle) and shoes and wandered barefoot on the wet, textured concrete that was barely above freezing. At first, tiny bits of stone and debris bit into the bottom of her feet. Then they just become numb.
But she couldn’t resist wandering deeper and closer to “danger”. At one point, they looked up as the music hit a crescendo and seemingly endless columns of water shot toward the sky. It appeared that they were doomed to wander the streets, wet and freezing, but somehow they were spared the seemingly inescapable drenching.
They exited the basin, confident that they cheated fate by remaining dry.
They began to wander again, with no particular destination in mind. As they were leaving the Seattle Center, he turned to her and said…
(to be continued)
“We just put a labyrinth in at our church; do you want to see it?”
She had forgotten that he was not a Unitarian like her and their best friends or a Buddhist, which is what one would believe him to be when first meeting him. He was an Episcopalian, which is very different than the Methodist church she was raised in and the “Unitarian Pagan with strong Buddhist tendencies” she had become as an adult. Upon closer consideration, she realized that the ceremony and spiritual magic in his church were not so different than the pagan religions she had participated in. There were even jokes made about “High Espisco-pagans” who value traditions and strict (if not elaborate) ritual.
They headed across a busy street, attempting to challenge traffic by jaywalking during a break in traffic. Once again, she bemoaned the silly shoes she had worn. They were not designed for fast sprints across busy city streets. She enjoyed taking calculated risks, and was annoyed at having to play it safe and wait for the walk light. The shoes made her feel lame. She prided herself on not being a silly “girly girl” but rather, being competent and athletic; and here she was, unable to sprint across the street because of her silly girly shoes. She was pissed.
As they walked down the darkened streets, she recognized the neighborhood. “Hey, you’re church is near my favorite Irish pub.” She commented casually. One of the first places a co-worker had taken her when she first moved to the Pacific Northwest was an Irish pub in this neighborhood, before a concert at the Seattle Center they had just left. It was also a favorite destination to enjoy a Guinness after the St. Patty’s Day Dash, a local (and quite colorful) race run the Sunday near St. Patrick’s Day.
After walking a few blocks, they arrived at the church. She wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After all, she had always associated labyrinths with more “hippy”, “liberal” and “alternative’ venues than the church she was now standing outside of.
She was standing at the entrance to a smaller version of the Chartres Labyrinth that was often, temporarily installed in the sanctuary of her own, more liberal church and that existed overlooking the water in University Place near her best friend’s house on county property where the Environmental Services building stands.
Before walking the labyrinth, she wandered over to the wayside exhibit and realized that the labyrinth is a common thread between many faiths and traditions. She understood how the lessons and experience of the labyrinth cross all socio-political boundaries.
They stood at the entrance to the labyrinth together, and she took the first step…
(to be continued)
For her, the labyrinth had always been a journey out of time and place. Her mind drifted back to the sanctuary at her own church the last time a labyrinth was installed there several years ago. She smelled the burning incense and watched the smoke wafting towards the rafters dancing in the dusky, low angled light of sunset while a chant played softly in the background. She was alone with her thoughts, walking an ancient pattern of self-discovery. Placed in the center, was a single spring daffodil, a common flower where she lived, but this one was unique and represented the message of creation and mystery when placed in the center of the labyrinth.
Her mind snapped back to the traffic, lights and sounds of a Seattle street corner, a very different setting. The labyrinth was the same but different in its feel. She had only walked a labyrinth with another person once before, her best friend, with whom she could just “be” and not have to speak. Other than that one time overlooking the sound, she had always experienced them alone. Walking a small labyrinth with another person was a different experience for her and made it more difficult to let her mind and spirit take the solitary journey that she thought she was supposed to be on. Instead of trying to make the experience the same, she did her best to allow the labyrinth to teach her a new lesson and show her a different way of looking at and experiencing things.
They walked the labyrinth together yet separately, making many circuits through the narrow, path. At times, it seemed that they were walking different paths, in different directions, their paths crossing occasionally; and then they would both be walking towards the same center. Their shoulders would brush as they passed one another on the narrow pathways. She turned her shoulders so that they would not make contact, not because the thought was repulsive, but because she felt it could intrude upon his personal journey and she was still in part trying to experience this as she did in her previous solitary journeys.
They stood in the center for a moment before beginning the journey out of the labyrinth watching the small choir practice though the basement window. She could not hear them through the heavy glass on the busy corner. She longed to go down their and make music with them and she wondered what they were singing.
Their journey outward was much like the journey inward and she began to open up to the experience. It had been a different journey with different lessons. She would need to reflect on this more.
They walked quietly back to the Seattle Center. The cocktail dress and strappy heeled sandals she was wearing under her Jacket did nothing to fend off the near freezing temperatures. She needed to warm up. In her pocket was a Starbucks gift certificate she had grabbed as she was headed out the door. Her plan was to sip a nice Chai in a warm location before ending the evening. She was certain that finding a Starbucks in Seattle would be as easy and tossing a stone to see where it landed. After all, the common perception is that there is a Starbucks on every corner. Both of them preferred local, independent and somewhat quirky tea or coffee houses to chains and neither had any clue where to find a store that neither of them patronized as a matter of practice. They had never looked for one.
They had a discussion about how one is often so busy looking for a single, focused object or goal that they ignore everything else around them. How else could you explain the fact that two locals could not find a Starbucks in Seattle? On their journey, they admired art that often went unnoticed during the busy days at the center, and he played some music that reverberated off of a wall at the center, creating his own amphitheatre. It was just a wall to passers by, but it was an acoustic dream, much like an artists canvass to one who paid attention.
Eventually, they found themselves back at the beginning of their journey at the heart of the Seattle Center. There, they found a Starbucks with two comfortable overstuffed chairs where they shared a warm spicy chai and some dark chocolate that he produced from his pack with a grin, and contemplated the evening’s unexpected and unplanned journey(s). Later that evening, they parted ways in front of his building and she began the drive back down to her part of the Puget Sound Region.
The evening had been completely spontaneous and unplanned, and it had been a great adventure. It had allowed her to open herself up to new experiences and to find the previously unnoticed in a familiar place, in another person and perhaps even in herself.
As she navigated the darkened streets of downtown, avoiding the Interstate until she absolutely had to use it, she began to ponder many questions running through her mind: What had she really been missing in life by narrowing her focus more often than necessary? Had she really gotten everything she could out of the labyrinth journey by initially trying to perceive it as a solitary journey? What had she potentially missed while focusing on something specific, not only that night, but also in her life?
The story of “The Accidental Labyrinth” ends here, but the journey is…
(to be continued)
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