Introducing “Bench Stories”

Bench StoriesFor nearly 20 years, the TKF Foundation has been committed to the idea that time spent in nature can trigger profound human experiences. This can be as simple as a stress relieving break from work, to sitting under the shade of a nearby tree, to the healing power of a walk in the woods during a time of great loss or trauma.  Time spent in nature gives us the chance to think, reflect, restore and most importantly, heal.

Unfortunately for many, access to nature is limited. These limitations include both a lack of green space within the city and the time constraints placed upon the individual to experience even brief moments with nature. This is why the TKF Foundation believes it is so important to bring nature to the individual, often in places where the healing forces of nature are needed most.

Since our beginning in 1996, the TKF Foundation has helped build more than 130 spaces, or as we call them “Open Spaces Sacred Places”, or Sacred Places, where people can take a moment to pause and experience all that nature has to offer. These sacred places can be found in hospitals, recovery centers, inner-city neighborhoods, shelters, educational facilities and more. Some of our Open Spaces create a meditative space in an already lush natural area while others serve as islands of green an otherwise urban jungle. These Open Spaces Sacred Places are visited by wounded veterans returning home from war, torture survivors working through the long journey to recovery, members of communities recovering from natural disaster and by those simply taking a quite moment in nature. People of all races, age and income level have visited these sacred places and enjoyed the tranquility they provide.

These spaces also go beyond the individual. Many of these Sacred Places have become rallying points for local communities. The construction of these sacred places has often united differing factions within a neighborhood and provided a gathering place for community functions, events and conversation. We have found that each of our Sacred Places transcends the mere notion of green space as it develops it’s own identity and purpose in the community.

Bench wood in its former life as a pickle vat.
Bench wood in its former life as a pickle vat.

Each of these Sacred Places features a specially designed bench which gives visitors a place to sit, reflect and enjoy the surroundings the space provides. These benches carry stories of their own. Each is built with aged timber recovered from giant vats used to make pickles. The rounded edges and curves of the benches reflect their former live as pickle vats. They are built by prisoners at Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, MD who, like the wood in the benches they build, are transitioning to a new phase of their own lives.

When you think about the history of these benches and the spaces where they exists, it is easy to wonder what they would say if they could talk. And while the benches themselves cannot speak, we can hear the voices of those who came before. Each bench contains a compartment with a waterproof journal and pen for visitors to share their thoughts and feelings as they visit these Sacred Places. Over the years we have collected tens of thousands of journal entries from people of all ages and backgrounds. Some are as innocent as a child’s drawing. In others you can feel the pain that the writer is going through as they pause to take in the nature around them. Some of the entries serve as therapy for those working through difficult circumstances, others have been used as a way to communicate thoughts and feelings to specific individuals the writer knew would look for their journal entry. From the simple to the profound, all carry the voices of those who have gone before. They give life to the space and provide another vehicle for pause and reflection.

Journal WritingIn the coming weeks we will be sharing these journal entries with you in a new feature, “Bench Stories.” Every Friday we will publish a new journal entry on our website and through our social media channels. Some will make you laugh, some will make you think, some will tug at your emotions while others may not connect at all. Each of them is a voice expressed at a certain place in time. Each of them brings the space to life and each of them helps to make each of these places a truly sacred space.