The air is crisp, cold.
The night is alive with the sound of leaves rustling in the wind and the water flowing in the fountains around me. Then, singing. Deep voices fill the air, chattering and disrupting the peace of the Garden of Reflection and Remembrance.
The garden, located at the Memorial Chapel on McKeldin Mall, features a labyrinth, large benches, calming fountains, and numerous memorial spots, commemorating veterans, the victims of 9/11, and other significant milestones in this university’s history. Designed for introspection and meditation, the garden is the best place on campus to find the quiet peace of solitude.
It was built in 2007, with money from the Open Spaces Sacred Places Foundation. People use it to think, to mourn, to grieve, and to remember. There are areas specifically for guided meditation, called the labyrinth, as well as unguided meditation.
The labyrinth, created to allow people to follow their path, in a way, forces whoever decides to walk it to think. By following the twists and turns in the maze, visitors get lost in their thoughts, destress from their lives and reminisce. With the transition from home life to college, many students have been walking the labyrinth since the beginning of the school year.
The stones, placed at the entrance, represent the start of the journey. They frequently have memories or text written on them, in honor of lives lost throughout the years. The walker picks one up, carries it with them while they walk and then sets it down at the center of the labyrinth, symbolically finishing his meditative journey.
The journals, located underneath the benches of the garden, allow students to express themselves, to release their thoughts into the world when they feel they can tell nobody else. These journals, which are replaced as soon as they are filled. They contain (sometimes graphic) stories, memories, happy and sad thoughts, hopes, dreams, wishes and messages of encouragement for other students.
Many pieces get responses, with students telling each other to be brave, to stay inspired. As the journal is filled, members of the church store them. They have every single journal since the creation of the garden stored inside the chapel and will absolutely show you if you ask them to.
I found this place on a Tuesday afternoon. There were two students walking the labyrinth at the time and one scribbling furiously in a journal. When I picked it up later to see what they wrote, it was a list of things they wish they had the confidence to say. The journal held phrases such as:
“Within myself I found galaxies, and I am worth more than this.”
One of the students walking the labyrinth stayed and meditated for just shy of two hours in the center of the maze.
But I have yet to see someone there after dark.
So at just past 1:30 in the morning, I was confused as to who else could possibly be making noise in the garden. I noticed the smell of cigarettes and the sound of a shovel.
A group of young men were milling around in a circle, smoking and defacing the land.
I instantly got angry–how dare these students destroy this place?
Did they not understand the sacrilege they were committing? Did they not understand what this place means to all the people who use it?
But then, one of the boys burst into tears. The singing that I had been hearing cut off, and was replaced with the sound of tears and murmurs of “I’m sorry” from his friends. They continued to comfort him as he buried his dead pet in the ground in the garden, and then they walked away.
And I understood. When in need of a place of solace, the garden is where I would go too.
Julia Lerner is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.