Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The MacLean Asylum

Last weekend as we motored through sightly Prince Edward County on a warm and sunny Saturday morning we noticed that one of the summer homes alongside Lake Ontario had planted on its tidy front lawn a small rectangular sign on which appeared the words “MacLean Asylum”. Initially we just thought it funny. Now however upon further digestion I perceive it was more than a mere joke, though I confess my first reaction upon seeing the small standard was to think of it as announcing a booby hatch or a crazy house. Increasingly I am understanding that it helps to be a bit mad to get through the day . There are so many daily misadventures that it would otherwise be impossible to remain cool.

Of course an asylum isn’t only a hospital for the mentally incompetent or unbalanced person; it is also a refuge or sanctuary, even an altar or safehold. As such I have since adopted a more refined construction of the little sign which we saw on the lawn. After all, I reasoned, one needn’t be unhinged or frenzied to pine for a secluded getaway though I suppose the motivation helps.

There are those who insist upon remaining at the front line of battle or who shudder to insulate themselves from its consequences. I have to say I take off my hat to such valour and determination! However, without counseling the submersion of oneself in alcohol to escape the effect of living, there is certainly some room for a reasonable and temporary reprieve. The traditional summer cottage appears to fill the bill. It is immediately clear upon setting foot upon a cottage property that something is different. The road leading to the place is often plain dirt or narrow; the swinging white gate usually invites some repair; there is perhaps a musty smell inside the cottage; and if one is lucky enough to be adjacent a body of water there is the expanding view across the same.

The mere change from one’s regular circumstances is often enough to lift one’s spirits. Additionally the seclusion of the cottage assures sanctuary from attack by any number of life’s customary assaults even if they are no more punishing than mere routine and errands. The cottage, with its collection of out-dated magazines and half-read books, its welcoming lounging chairs upon the deck and the prospect of an afternoon nap cooled by a summer breeze all contrive to disengage us from our erstwhile existence.

It perhaps isn’t too far-fetched to suggest that the cathartic experience approaches a religious one. It is no accident that the inner sanctum of a church, where the clergy and choir cloister themselves,is the launch of communion, the divine communication with things beyond. While there is much often touted about the visceral and the cerebral, the spiritual element of our being is not to be ignored and left unnourished. Sometimes doing nothing more than enjoying that magic feeling of having nowhere to go is all that it takes to revitalize us. I suppose one can be forgiven for combining all this heady stuff with a good drink and a fine meal.

All told, while I haven’t met the MacLeans, I believe I can see what they meant!

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