(Post by CAROLYN SOLARES)
A beautiful city park sits near downtown Fargo, North Dakota, a city not especially known for its natural beauty. I returned to Fargo as an adult—and ended up staying for five years. While living there, I spent many hours walking around the perimeter of this small park, which covers a city block, one square mile, and is home to hundreds of carefully planted trees and flowers, making it look like an urban forest.
I have childhood memories of taking swimming and tennis lesson there, attending festivals and picnics there, and cutting through the park on the way to the YMCA, which shares its northeast corner. As an adult, however, I largely appreciated the park from the outside looking in, staying on the pavement surrounding it. But one day last summer, I followed inspiration into the park. Standing in the middle of the trees and grass, I saw something I had never noticed before. People come here alone; they come here to be alone. And I marveled that a place that attracts so many solo visitors would be so appropriately named…Island Park.
I have always thought of this pretty, tree-covered park as a happy place. Yet I have come to recognize it as well as a lonely, melancholy place—a welcoming space inviting its visitors to leave their loneliness and their melancholia, if only for a moment, in the park.
I went there a lot to think and to breathe. And I went there to walk, not my usual rapid power walking, but calm, thoughtful steps. I brought my hopes, my worries, and my sorrows. But the park never seemed to mind. In return for my meager offerings, it always made a miraculous and unequal exchange, generously depositing a piece of itself in me.
On the north edge of the park stands a bronze and granite statue called Angel of Hope, a memorial to families who have lost children. For whatever reason, this corner became my favorite place in the park. I’d sit there quietly on one of the iron benches in front of the statue, looking at the bricks in the pavements with names of children who had died, all strangers to me. I felt something comforting and sweet—and even sacred—about this spot. I stopped there to think, to not think, and sometimes to just listen. And I loved the families who, in creating this little oasis of hope, made it safe for all visitors to release our own heartache and sorrow. I came to think of this angel as my angel, and I always felt better after visiting her.
On one of my last walks through the park, I watched two teenage boys walking on the grass, and assumed they were using the park as a shortcut. Then they surprised me and sat on one of the benches in front of my angel. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. They recognized the bittersweet magic of that special spot. I smiled knowing that my angel was now also their angel—and that none of us are ever really alone.
Last November, I moved to a city with no shortage of parks or natural beauty. Yet while recently walking around a lake in a suburban park, I found myself missing the small tree-covered park, my solo companions, and our angel of hope. As I wound my way around the narrow lake feeling optimism, joy, and peace, I knew that the park I loved—that had given me so much—was still with me. And I thanked my angel and the healing power of that island park.