I tell the boys
stories I make up about a blue kid-size teddy bear in a yellow
polka-dotted purple bow tie. He's mischievous and a little
excitable. Chu-Chu is his name and he is my imaginary friend and I
frame the stories about him around my childhood misadventures growing
up in rural Ohio. In the most recent one Chu-Chu got caught stealing
apples and was reprimanded by a farmer who, in truth, just wanted to
be asked for the apples, he had plenty, he reminded us in the end. Oh,
and there was pie.
I finished the
story and Nick asked me where Chu-Chu was now. I told him that after
a long career as a loving companion to several children, he retired
to Arizona. I flippantly remarked, "He'd always dreamed of
bathroom, hug, tuck, "three pats," lights out...
"Dad, what is
it you've always dreamed of?"
mean?" I asked through the dim, quiet room.
"You know, if
you had a dream what would it be?"
"For you guys
to grow up happy and healthy. Now, good night," was all I said.
But his words keep echoing through my mind, through my heart,
through my soul.
If I had a
We walk together
the stone walkway that marches from our screened-in porch and winds
under the maples towards an outbuilding which sits about midway back in the yard, just beyond the tall locust tree, there, where the
tomatoes and the roses once grew and the oak saplings still struggle
upwards. The building has windows on the side facing the house,
shuttered at times, and the siding is the whitewashed wood of an old
barn, baked for decades, in the unforgiving Midwest summer sun.
The shadows of two
boys and a man float in the speckled light and seem to crouch on the
roof which is not peaked but slopes from the opposite, higher wall,
at a slight, easy angle. A low, unrailed deck comes off the front of
the building which sits somewhat skewed on the lot so that you see
the windowed wall and the front facing as you approach it. We stand
quietly. Behind us, on the front, wide wall, a pair of barn doors
wait and a another window hides behind shutters. Our eyes are
drawn, as always, to the stained purple, red, pink and
burgundy glass window that sits magnificently, triangular in the space
formed by the sloping roof above the barn door and the shuttered
One pair of hand
reaches out and opens the doors as the other set pats my shoulders
and then swings open the shutters of the front window. The interior
is revealed. The place is dreamy, the floor is recycled wide wood
planking, butter toned, and extends to the back wall perhaps twenty
or so feet. A circular window is nestled high in the angular space,
mirroring back the front one. We step in and gaze through the
familiar light. The restored rose window - saved from a church long
lost to tears and time – is back-lit in glory from the setting
September sun. Below that window, the wall is weathered wainscoting
up to a stick brown chair rail. The rest of the wall, and the
windowed wall to the right are painted a yellowed, parchment beige.
Just below the
rose window, a score of sconces hold candles of every size and
description. My two companions light them with wooden matches and
the sulfur smell mixes with the wood and incense infused into the
very essence of the space. Lit daily for years now, they provide the
backdrop to a simple wooden trestle table maybe four by six feet. An
exquisite white porcelain plate, oversized and oval, sits gracefully,
contrastingly smooth against the rough work table. On this day a dazzling
geode sits, split open, shimmering in the candle and stained light of
the back wall, seeming to hover just above the simple plate.
nice...” A soft voice breaks the silence.
To the left, the
high wall is covered in shelves and cubbyholes handcrafted by an old
cabinet maker, installed flawlessly. A row of lights on the deep
blue ceiling showcase old books and watches and jars of marbles and
new books and photos and, well, a bit of everything, really. Hands
reach out, six now, and eyes flit from this to that, breaths intaking, hearts breaking, memories soaring at every stop of each mind's eye. Beautiful things, warm
things, stuff you want to hold in your hands or against your breast.
Towards the front of this wall another work table sits, waist high,
the kind of table you tinker at. Two lamps string down from the
ceiling to illuminate it. Two hands reach out to turn them on. Papers and music and pencils and
cardboard and notepads wait. Two guitars hang on the wall, also waiting.
Below the picture
window, an old-timey teacher's desk sits in the ruddy evening sun. A laptop,
a scanner, and a printer are hidden under the papers and handwritten
notes and finished and unfinished manuscripts. An unlit candle and a
smoke-stained desk light and a cold cup of coffee sit, temporarily
abandoned in the paper chaos.
I sit down at the
now ancient desk.
“Dad, I remember
you designing this, in the basement. Blue tape and, like, manilla
“Yes, but it
didn't turn out that way...”
like that,” the third man offers with a wisp of a smile.
out better. Life's like that, too.”
What is this
place? It is a shed. A shed where I go to dream at an oaken desk.
A shed where I go to pray at a wooden table of an altar. A shed
where I go to find peace, serenity and solitude in the paper words of poets
and saints. We built it, we three. Someday, some-time-ago, some-time-to-come, now,
never, always. We built, are building, will build, this. A father and his sons – we three.
It is my Prayer
If I had a
architect, famous once but now just another guy sitting at the local
coffee shop, asked me what I did as I sat tapping away on a laptop
one cold winter day. I laughed and told him I was "just a
dreamer." He said he was once a dreamer, now he was just tired.
He went back to his mug of coffee, black and strong and hot.
"What do you
dream about?" He whispered it, almost as if he didn't want to
say it, didn't want to bridge the sanctioned gap between our tables,
between us. I trusted his eyes so I told him about my Prayer Shed.
I told him it was hard to write and think in a cold, dank basement
and that I wanted to be in a space full of light so I could dream
bigger, hope harder, pray more reverently, think longer, more
involved plots and characters and narratives. I told him
it hurt my heart to dream of something I knew I could never have.
His eyes were
full, both tears and understanding fell from them, and he looked
inside me and, trusting me, he said, "I'll design it for you."
And he did. The blueprints are rolled up and stacked in a cubby
just there, next to that Mason jar of my grandfather's marbles.
If I had a
Once a month, when
the weather is good, the front porch of the shed is filled with
people, singing songs and laughing and telling stories. It is a
hootenanny where anyone can play, children, old-timers, old rockers
and bluegrass pickers. A simple sound system, a couple of small
Peavy amps, some mics and a good friend at the mixing board. A fire
in a fire pit, beer and wine, hotdogs, friendship and music -
inclusive music, sacred music, raucous music, good and not-so-good
music - fill the evening air like prayer lanterns lifting up and out
People come from
all around and there is never anywhere to park, but, the neighbors
don't care - one's a fiddler and the other is stoking the fire.
There is an atmosphere of love and acceptance, and memories are made,
a lifetimes worth, evening after summer evening. Sometimes, when the
weather is bad, we all shove into the shed, close, happy to be so,
the amps turned off, the guitars and singers just feet away from the
glad, expectant faces of the crowd.
If I had a
dreaming-once-again architect calls his cabinet maker buddy and finds
out he could use some work and, for nearly cost, he puts in the
shelves and cubbies and, from his own workshop, "lends" me
the table that becomes the focal point of the space.
I meet an old
hippie at the farmers market, and, liking his chest length gray beard
I comment on it, he laughs, loud and strong, and wonders how he still
has it because he works as a stained glass artist. I ask him about
the work and we stand, talking comfortably, as he explains a recent
project. He found a rose window in an old barn, covered in dirt and
grime, and decided to restore it. Chuckling and shaking his head he
says that he can't imagine why he did it - no one wants that kind of
I say quietly.
When I go to his shop - a jumble of color and glass
and lead - a vintage Martin guitar stands in a corner and a even older
Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer sits open amidst the glass
fragments, neither are dusty, neither neglected.
I tell him where
it will go and he is pleased and offers to design another window for
me, the window above the front door, the window facing east, the
window he calls "Sunrise Prayer."
If I had a
I wouldn't stop
there. No. The building inspector would have a son who was a
graduate film student and needs a thesis project and comes and
documents the whole process from architect's office to glass studio
to shingles and front deck. He would come to deeply understand why
the shed must be built by profoundly understanding why dreams must be
dreamt. He will edit and filter and score and narrate and he will manifest his
dream as I do mine. And, his documentary will be beautiful.
He will help me
explain my dream. He would listen to me say things like: "I
think it is important for children to dream, it is important that
adults dream, it is the stuff that moves us toward God. More than
that, though, it is important, urgently so, that children see adults
dream. Even if that dream ends in failure, which it may, we must
give our boys and girls permission to dream, to dreamy crazy, to
dream big." And, he would make me seem credible and decent not
flaky and misanthropic.
If I had a
The sound of
hammers and saws filled the backyard for weeks and weeks. I remember
pouring the foundations, framing the walls up and hoisting the
rafters. My sons helped me. They helped me build my dream, board by
board, nail by nail, blister by blister. They are just nine - or
twelve, or twenty, I know not, really - and they learn a lifetime of
skills, good skills, hand skills, heart skills. They will forever
tell the story about the hammer Nick dropped and Zack caught,
miraculously, just before it crashed through a window, a rose window.
They will learn, finally and forever, that their dad is crazy and
beautiful and earnest and humble and holy and full, so full, of the
kind of love that is so hard to place, and, and, he built a place for
it - because, because... he needed to.
If I had a
I would dedicate
my shed to my work. I would finish my novels there. I would have a
website, theprayershed.org. I would ask others to send me books,
prayer books and bibles and poetry and memoirs and my shelves would
swell and bow from the weight. I would ask for things to place on my
makeshift altar and people would send feathers and stones and baby
socks and acorns and geodes and flowers... and hopes and dreams and
fears and failures. I would pray for it all. I would take a photo
everyday and post it on the site, "from the table" I might
call that, and years and years of images would be forever saved in
simple, prayer-like zeroes and ones.
If I had a
People would come
to see me, some might want to pray with me, others might want to pray
alone. Some would come to argue with me, tender arguments about God
and gods and saviors, warriors and souls. With some I would talk
about writing and music and the nature of Art and we would sing songs
and form bands and laugh freely and gather around an old wood stove
off in the corner by the door and tell stories on a cold winter's night. And, we would dream
together of sacred journeys and holy places and basement boats and
backyard sheds. We would call ourselves "shedheads" and we
would show others how to dream impossibly big and crazy and
If I had a
I would share it
If I had one...
Thank you for listening to me dream my little dreams. I hope it helps you to remember to dream yours.