By: April Butler
I’ve always lived on the water. In my hometown of Paducah, Kentucky it was the Ohio River.
Nestled in the heart of our quaint downtown was a flood wall, adorned with murals of memories past and on the other side, tucked away was a patch of grass and a rocking bench overlooking the river. This bench with the picturesque view was the site of breakups and first kisses, ice cream on hot summer days and steaming coffee in the cool autumn wind. This was the spot I studied for my entrance exam to medical school, taking breaks from studying to watch as the barges lazily rolled along the river. Inevitably, it was the first place I would go to when home for a summer or winter break from college.
In the midst of the ups and downs of my life, there was a comfort in knowing the Ohio River was there, and “my” bench, the spot where I could take it all in. The tide was always reaching the shore whether I was elated and experiencing the peaks of joy or heartbroken and trying to find meaning in the pain.
Eventually, I left my hometown. I moved to Louisville to study medicine, just a few hours upriver on the Ohio. I never found a bench as cozy as the one at home, but I found my sanctuary on an eight mile stretch of two lane highway running parallel to the river. Before exams, on especially difficult days at the hospital, or if I just needed to clear my head, I would drive down this road with the windows down and music blaring. It was cathartic. Driving west along the water with the evening sun glistening across the waves caught in the Louisville skyline – this was my new version of a bench on the water, and it felt like my own once again.
The water had a way of cleansing and centering me.
I thought, naturally, when I moved to start my medical residency in San Diego, my new space would be somewhere along the Pacific Ocean. In a year where I saw patients in their final moments, I found it harder to be around others – like in a crowded place to watch the sunset. So, my bench became a high top chair on my front porch.
It was the welcoming hug after a long day at the hospital. It held the first cup of coffee on an anticipated day off after an 80-hour work week. Many pages had been turned here, poems written, medicine studied… I watched people walk each other home. I still felt connected to the world, yet safely tucked away. I watched the sun sink behind my neighbor’s red adobe styled home. The child next door would sometimes shoot his nerf gun a little too far, and I watched as he ran fast into my front yard to retrieve his foam bullet, then leave me chalk hearts scraped on the steps leading up to my house for me to discover the next day after I arrived home from work.
I’ve found my space changes as I have changed.
I used to feel like I had to see the ocean or a large body of water like the Ohio River to remind myself that I matter, that I’m worth something. Now, it almost reminds me of the opposite. I am one single human in a world of billions, and while that could make me feel insignificant, it reminds me of my power. I’m content to sit on my porch and take in the everyday miracles that I am learning to appreciate. Connecting with neighbors through conversations or sidewalk chalk. The simple cups of coffee and the screech of a school bus. I can see it in every patient I care for and the seeking glance of every family member I update regarding a loved one. Sure, I can still see it in the grandeur of the ocean, but I no longer require the vastness to remind me that I am but one person in a world of billions, yet, I possess the bravery and resilience it takes to change the world.
In the end, I create my sacred space within me.