As I See It


Ruth Sanford



It was crisis in the life of a friend which took me away. Because she needed me at this moment and I wanted to respond. I left home and other calls upon my attention which I had considered important either to me or to someone I cared about. Once on my way I realized that the going was also answering my own need for space – inner space and space in time


In familiar surroundings, it is difficult to look around without seeing something which needs to be done, which demands attention. Hence it is difficult to save for oneself, space in time, a time to “get it together”, to get perspective, to see what is important and what is just going through the motions, whether one’s expression of caring and affection is real or only what is expected or, in fact, a habit - like the absent minded “have a nice day” kiss in the morning, with your mind on something else. I suspect 50 percent of them are just that, partly because neither the kisser nor the kissee takes the time to feel anything more!


Then there is personal space - room to move about without apologizing for stepping on someone's toes or explaining where you were when you 10 minutes late or keeping someone waiting because you paused to enjoy a moment of your own. Or being so close to someone that you can't remember whether it was your idea or someone else's expectation of you. And then there is the possessiveness or control that people often confuse with caring or loving. A friend who was feeling a painful lack of space put it this way, “Sometimes I feel like a yo-yo on a string.”


Well as I left New York on an AMTRAK train, I became aware of all these kinds of space and more. The New Jersey flatlands where dumping grounds encroached on highways, human shelters collided with stacked up skeletons of cars, and the land had been so desecrated that even the fresh green hope of spring could not cover the scars.  No space for living things here.


But I had distance from it all, and I had time with no immediate encroachment of telephone or people or odd jobs to be done. I had space because I had been able to create it. But what about the people sitting on dilapidated doorsteps or lounging on sidewalks in Newark or the outskirts of Philadelphia? Old houses, people piled on one another with no where to go, no space in place, out of touch with themselves and time? Had these people ever had the help or the opportunity to develop the ability to create the space they needed to grow in?


I saw places, unimaginative, bleak, tawdry, neglected, seedy and dying. They generated in me a pervasive unease. Then there were open fields and wooded slopes, lanes of trees closing in on the tracks, and little towns alight with garden spots and happy looking homes each with its own age and character showing. These people, I perceived, did not just have space they were using it, and it was nurturing them.


What makes the difference? To quote the King (of Siam) "is puzzlement"


The sun was casting the warm golden light of a late June afternoon sun across the landscape and setting the sides of buildings aglow when I stepped off the train in Lancaster. The last time I climbed the ancient iron steps to the cavern-like shed, it was raining. Rain pouring in rivulets from the cracked and peeling ceiling into tall metal trash cans placed here and there, spilled over was flooding the floor. The long shed and the station itself had long been decaying, a forlorn reminder of a once dignified structure with touches of elegance.


I pushed open the door at the top of the stairs and caught my breath. I dropped my luggage and looked around.  Soft buff tones of plaster and paint blended into the delicately chiseled stone and marble. Every flower and tendril showed in the cornice and molding. The windows in their gently arched frames gleamed, the vaulted ceiling reflected the light of the great room, the battered old benches of the 19th century waiting room showed rich wood patterns which had been hidden by grime of a century, the brass and bronze of ticket windows glowed against marble. Small trees flourished in stone planters. There was no litter. The place breathed pride.


Here was space made beautiful by someone who saw it and cared.


Then I saw a carefully hand lettered sign. “This renovation and improvement was made possible by generous contributions of the Chamber of Commerce and the people of Lancaster with cooperation of AMTRAK." As I stood there taking in that simple statement, I thought of the people of Seaford, the town I've come to care deeply about, and how space there has been used. How space there can be used, to nurture, and in the speech of the Kentucky mountain folk, to “pleasure us all on”.


There is a sequel. Where one dowdy and reluctant ticket agent, barely visible in the dark, had in the past, doled out information and a few tickets, two alert agents brisk and friendly were making the process pleasant. I had occasion to wait about half an hour for my train back to New York. In that time 25 or 30 passengers bought tickets and waited; in the past no more than 4 or 5 had straggled in. The service to and from New York, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Chicago is much improved - trains are stopping there again! Bus connections for the countryside are more convenient and the business area around the station is absorbing the prosperous look of the “restoration and improvement"


So! Our use of space

Can change the face

Of person and place