Sometimes a place can hold a specific marker in one’s life. Sometimes a place was meant to be found and meant to be entered into. Sometimes I wonder…do the places we occupy get created before we enter them or do we somehow create the places we are meant to occupy?
That’s what it felt like for me. A tiny cafe in Queens, along a busy road, hidden in between a laundromat and a hair salon, seemed not to have existed before I found it…perhaps created just for me. An outside observer walking past may not have even noticed the small, humble exterior, but a keen observer would have noted something different about the sky blue facade and the light stained glass windows. Upon entering, one would have to notice something different about this blue and yellow cafe, from the women in colorful saris to the prayer flags to the pink roses in glass to the all-vegetarian menu. It seemed oddly out of place in this asphalt Queens desert, cars streaming by and buses rumbling past.
I discovered The Panorama of my Silence-Heart cafe (yes, it’s called that) about a year into living in Briarwood, Queens. Little did I know that this small cafe was going to become a second home the summer I had a deep personal healing open up and in the year after I quit my job and started a private practice. Little did I know that it would hold space for so many of my emotional ups and downs in the span of two years. I didn’t know much about the Indian guru Sri Chinmoy whose spiritual community had founded the cafe, but I soon got to know him well. His image, art, and quotations were infused throughout the space. It became almost impossible to separate the space from the man himself, who has passed on but continues to occupy its walls with his presence.
It was strangely more comforting for Sri Chinmoy to be holding space for the cafe from the beyond, somehow lending his image and legacy a bit more mystery and power. Gurus or spiritual leaders still in the flesh tend to have the unfortunate aspect of being all too human and all too flawed. His silent presence in the cafe seemed to give it an air of protection and potency that may not have existed had he been walking along its floors. But then again, I’ve never met the man.
Sometimes a place itself becomes like a person…a person beyond the person who created it or beyond the people who occupy it. This cafe became like an intimate partner for two years of my life, watching and holding space for my most sad, lost, and worried moments, as well as my most joyful, lively, and creative selves. This space has seen me at my best and worst and has been the best kind of partner: never judging, never prying, yet ever-present. Each emotion, thought, and creative impulse seemed to land with just the right amount softness and inquisitiveness. The space seemed to speak at times, as if to say, “You are more than you think you are.”
I redesigned my website in this cafe. I wrote blog posts. I began writing a book. I had conversations with friends who ventured in from other cities or the faraway land of Manhattan. I drank fresh green tea. I cried silently to myself. I sat elated, saving the world in my mind. I stared at the bookshelf lost in thought, drawn to titles on nutrition, spirituality, and self-development. I ate so many omelettes with homemade pesto and fresh greens. I listened to many songs. I wrote for many hours.
I found myself here. I found my voice here. I gave these walls my trauma. I demanded my life force back. I spoke to the Universe silently, asking questions of its mysteries, sometimes with deep, empty silence, sometimes with whispers in response. I sat cross legged at the low table, the one in the back, reveling in the simple pleasure of sipping a smoothie through a straw and burrowing into a pile of pillows.
It’s hard to leave places. It’s even harder to leave places that have become a part of your story, that have weaved themselves into your development. One summer in the middle of some particularly intense spiritual experiences, I found this place. I grounded my energy here. This place saw me through the next two years of some intense personal and spiritual development. It allowed a deepening in my life. It was both a portal to distant places in my psyche and a landing pad to come back.
As I move on and leave Queens for Westchester, I recognize that I am leaving more than just a place behind, I am leaving behind a specific time in my life. And there’s nothing that can properly capture that or mark that. We are here one day and somewhere else the next. But just the fact that we have been here, that we have lived through these moments, marked by these places that we have occupied has to leave something behind. These chairs will not telegraph my having been here. The ladies behind the counter will eventually forget my regular order. But something of this time will remain. And something of me will remain in this space. I’ll be that ethereal presence, crying and laughing silently, writing and singing to myself, still traveling through that portal, holding it open for those who need to find themselves too.