People develop strange attachments to places. Good memories, bad experiences, and people we love seem to get imprinted into places like “home,” “school,” and “church” in a way we can’t easily explain. Walking through these significant places can bring a flood of emotion.

Places are much more than physical spaces but include our emotional attachments and memories. My “home,” though it shares the same physical space with my “house,” has an ascribed meaning which is more than the sum total of wood, sheetrock, nails, and shingles. We have laughed and cried and lost and loved inside those walls.

One of the strangest things about places is how they involve other people. Places become a way for us to hold on to people we have lost.

I heard a song the other day that touches on how people related to places. “Gold Rush,” by the oddly named indie band Death Cab for Cutie, starts as a lament about the changing landscape of a neighborhood in Seattle. People are cashing in by tearing down the old and putting up the new. At first, I thought this was going to be a song about gentrification or simple sadness over change. See verse one below:

Verse One
Digging for gold in my neighborhood
Where all the old buildings stood
And they keep digging it down and down
So that their cars can live underground
The swinging of a wrecking ball
Through these lath and plaster walls
Is letting all the shadows free
The ones I wish still followed me

As the narrative unfolded (especially in verse four and in the bridge), I realized that the songwriter, Ben Gibbard, was wrestling with place significance. These buildings that are being replaced are more than mere wood and concrete. Gibbard has emotional attachments intermingled with these spaces. Before long, it becomes clear that a lost relationship seems to slip further away with each demolished “place.” See verse four and the bridge:

Verse Four
Digging for gold in my neighborhood
For what they say is the greater good
But all I see is a long goodbye
A requiem for a skyline
It seems I never stopped losing you
As every dive becomes something new
And all our ghosts get swept away
It didn’t used to be this way

I’ve ascribed these monuments
A false sense of permanence
I’ve placed faith in geography
To hold you in my memory
I’m sifting through these wreckage piles
Through the rubble of bricks and wires
Looking for something I’ll never find
Looking for something I’ll never find
See video and full lyrics to the song

I get exactly what Gibbard is saying. I can’t step into my childhood home in Oklahoma without my mind passing back the days when my Dad was still living. Though he died 34 years ago, I can vividly remember fun experiences, challenging times, minor events, and lively conversations I had with him at home.

The living room holds difficult memories from the night when I found out that my Dad would not be coming home. I distinctly remember sitting on the chocolate-brown crushed velvet couch and looking down at the dingy orange and brown carpet as Dad’s bosses told us he had died. Long ago, Mom pulled out that carpet and got new furniture, but those moments (and the hours of waiting before hearing) are locked in that room. Often when I am there, I will go look out the large picture window into the darkness and remember that night. I remember watching the headlights inch closer to our house across the distance just before Dad’s bosses arrived. I knew those headlights would not be bringing good news. (Read my blog about Dad here).

Lest we convince ourselves that this place significance is something new, the Bible offers many examples of place significance. One of the most interesting is in Luke 9:28-36. After the Transfiguration of Jesus, Peter is ready to just stay there on the mountain to remember this amazing event. Another example of place significance in Bible comes after Elijah defeated the prophets of Ba’al. Even though God provide Elijah a great victory, Elijah despaired, and he ran. Where he ran is significant. Elijah ran straight to Mt. Horeb (Sinai) – the place where God gave the Law to Moses. Moses heard from God at Mt. Horeb on stone tablets and Elijah heard from God in a gentle wind (traditionally “still, small voice”).

So what’s the point? Simply this: Our emotions get tied up and mingled in with significant places. During the holiday season many of these emotions will be exposed as people visit significant places and significant people. Embrace the good memories and use the bad and painful memories as a way to grow.

Photo by Kamel Bendjaima at

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