The Power of Inscriptions and Park Benches

Dear Reader:

When we think about what we can leave behind that might help someone else along their journey long after we are gone…sometimes that “what” can be something as simple as an inscription or quote to let someone else know that others , before them, shared the same feelings and thoughts.

“To June who loved this garden from Joseph who always sat beside her.”

In the 1999 romantic comedy, Notting Hill, (with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant) one memorable scene takes place in a private, beautiful old English garden (which the two character actors climb a fence to sneak into)….and, then, slowly walk towards a bench. In the moonlight Julia reads the words inscribed on it and realizes that love can be real and lasting. As a (fictional) major movie star (in the movie) she has been used and abused for her fame and become cynical of love…only to realize true love does exist.

Garden bench scene – Notting Hill – YouTube (One Minute)

One inscription on a bench in a garden changes one person’s outlook on life and lasting relationships. That’s a pretty big impression to leave behind. Life-altering, in fact.

*Interesting tidbit….The bench today can be found in the Queen’s Gardens in Perth, Australia…How it came to end up there is fascinating (but also a little sad.)

*A little known fact is that the park bench from the 1999 film, Notting Hill, was donated to the City of Perth and is located in the center of the park.The bench is inscribed “To June who loved this garden from Joseph who always sat beside her”. The anonymous donor purchased the bench to propose to his girlfriend. She declined his hand in marriage and he then donated the movie-famous bench to the City of Perth.

How nice of that poor broken-hearted boy to donate the bench to the Queen’s Gardens... on top of having his proposal rejected (while obviously spending a lot of money purchasing the famous bench from the movie.)

I was reading one of Quinn Caldwell’s devotionals yesterday morning and his life  was changed, too, by an inscription on a  bench, on a college campus, where he was having a complete melt-down… ready to quit school and go home. Then he saw the inscription that changed his mind and life direction.

…”I sort of fell apart during my first semester of college. In retrospect, it was normal stuff: small town kid in a big school, first generation to go to college, too many course credits, too little sleep, the grand lie that calculus is understandable. Nevertheless, I was well and truly harrowed. Empty, it felt like, but for a little pile of dust where my sense of self used to be.

Late one night I stumbled out of the library at a million o-clock and burst into tears. I slumped onto a stone bench and sat there wetly coming undone. Never in my life had I felt such despair. Eventually, I noticed an inscription carved into the backrest of the bench:

“To those who shall sit here rejoicing,
“To those who shall sit here mourning,
“Sympathy and greeting;
“So have we done in our time.” (It was signed by the school’s first president and his wife.)

Twenty-whatever years later, I can’t help but roll my eyes at the kid crying tears on a hundred-year-old bench in the middle of a perfectly-kept quad in the middle of a fancy university. And yet I can still literally, physically, feel the relief that washed through me as I read those words that night, a gift from ancestors who thought I was worth leaving a message for.

Who knew that I’d need a little companionship and sympathy in the middle of some future night. Who were willing, with weary and loving patience, to put my problems into a century or so of much-needed perspective. I got up, headed home, and started putting myself back together (after dropping calculus, obviously).

Soon you’ll be an ancestor. What inscription will you raise as gifts to the descendants? God knows that one day, some broke-down kid is going to come wandering this same way; before you go, what lasting true thing will you leave for them to find?”

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

So until tomorrow….”Help me Father find the words to instruct the ones who will follow me… with advice to help them through the tough times…strangers and loved ones alike.  Let my grandchildren always remember my “Boo Boo” saying:

“Today is my favorite day”  Winnie the Pooh

 

Happy Birthday Ben and Vikki!

Love you both and wish all the best life has to offer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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