Author's note: this is an ode to spaces, but it's just as much an ode to friendships that have changed and evolved in accordance with major life events. I wrote this a few months back and chose to hold it until May, José and Melanie's wedding month. I'm melodramatic like that.
José’s house is on a hill. During the winter months, I’m thankful I don’t live in his neighborhood, because driving in risky weather up or down that incline would bring me to new extremes of apprehension. Thankfully, it’s hardly ever snowy or icy in eastern Tennessee, so in all seasons, I can easily make my way to the Minay home.
I don’t remember the details of the first time I went to José’s, but I remember the season. In May 2016, I graduated college with no certain plans except for getting married that August. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t know where Jay (my fiancé) and I would end up when he graduated that December, and while most of my friends started careers or left to go home, I stayed. Cleveland, Tennessee is seven hours away from my home state. Jay was in Nashville for the whole summer, and I felt like I had precious few (but a significant few!) friends to spend those long months with. I know for sure that my first invitation to José’s came from spending time with José and Kyle after church on Sundays. And so, one summer evening, for the first time, I sat on the cozy couch in the high-ceilinged living room in the house with a sweeping view of the valley of South Cleveland, watching Contagion.
José’s passion for movies is proven by his collection, movie poster-plastered room, and knowledge of film facts and theories. Movie-watching is and has always been our primary activity at José’s house; that first evening, José found out I hadn’t seen many of his favorite movies–or really, many movies in general–, and he made a list for us to work through. This lasted well into school starting back that fall, through the last year of college, and into the next fall, after Jay and I got married.
As movie nights became a semi-regular event, I grew closer to the group of friends who came regularly to José’s. Later that summer, Jay returned from Nashville and joined us. Slowly, we more or less worked through the list of “Movies Eliza Needs to Watch,” including some of José’s favorites–Shawshank Redemption, October Sky, and the long and confusing 2001: A Space Odyssey. On these evenings, we would go out and get Thai food or make dinner at his house. Movies would be paused long enough for someone to take cookies out of the oven or explain plot points–two very different but equally necessary actions.
As we spent more and more time there together, and as the ties of our friend group grew stronger, José’s house became an unofficial home base. Even after Jay and I moved to Chattanooga, there were times when we would drive to Cleveland two to four times a week to be with our friends. José was always happy to host us all, and we were all happy to fill the house with yelling during scary movies, loud singing, and laughter.
We spend most of our time in the living room, the first area you encounter when you enter his house. To the left is the kitchen in which we have baked and consumed many dozen Nestlé chocolate chip cookies. Because José is passionate about movies, he has an ideal setup: a big TV, an excellent sound system, and a finished basement area so we have our pick of where to watch movies. Downstairs includes a kitchenette area with a fridge always stocked with LaCroix,and another living area with couches and chairs and TV. José’s parents are missionaries, and their house is rich with gifts and souvenirs from mission trips, other countries, and Chile, the Minays’ other home.
I love José’s house. I love it because it is a refuge. The more time we spent at his home, whether he invited us or we invited ourselves, the more familiar it became. With that arose feelings of comfort and safety, and I looked forward to–even longed to–spending time there with the ones who I could trust with all my joys and sorrows. We were a family of friends, and José’s house was our home.
In the fall of 2018, our church community experienced incredible loss when a teenager in our youth group passed away suddenly and tragically. On my personal timeline, this season of grieving fell right after the most anxious few months of my life. I was already feeling damaged, nerves and emotions frazzled, but I also watched ripples of grief and confusion pass over people in and out of my circle. The day of the funeral came. As we sat with our friends and students, my mind was reaching for whatever would make me feel safe, whatever would bring peace. In the midst of the grief and exhaustion, I remember thinking, “I just want to be at José’s.” A few days later, I was sitting on the sofa in his living room, surrounded by my close friends. Together, we processed the events of that week, and the hospitality of that space held us with healing and peace-filled tenderness.
José’s house has seen intense and soul-changing moments as well as raucous, joyful gatherings. I could list dozens of memories: our Lord of the Rings movie marathon when Jay and I spent the night, hearing stories and eating amazing Puerto Rican food when José’s parents were in town from Cambodia, surprising Kyle on his birthday by singing “Wonderwall” as he walked in the front door, laying on the floor to fully experience José’s favorite M83 song as it pulsed from the subwoofer, perfecting our individual dance moves, relaxing after Cody and Grace’s wedding, sharing affirmations on Lilly’s birthday, and watching the vlogs that we made together.
José texted me today at 3:56 pm, news I knew would be coming sometime this week: “I proposed earlier today so...we’re engaged now.” In a few months, José and Melanie will be joined together and start married life in the house Melanie owns. This means that in the not-so-distant future, we will be gathering for the final time in the house on the hill. I don’t know how to mourn this, for it is a loss, at least to me. Spaces are important; spaces can be sacred. Spaces can hold wonderful or somber connotations as they collect memories whose shadows continue to exist after the experience is over. It’s hard to think of saying goodbye to this space, this house that’s held me and made me feel whole. To let go of such a thing is to wonder, will I find another sanctuary?
I think about José and Melanie’s new house; I hope that we will have evenings where they invite us over to watch movies and afternoons where we sit around and talk about life, God, and everything else. I’m hopeful that their house will be a sanctuary all its own–not just for me, but for every person who comes into their home. This is part of how I see the goodness of God, that He allows such spaces to exist–and He doesn’t just allow them; He makes them. For who really brings healing and wholeness but Jesus? And who sanctifies the sanctuary but God Himself? If a person or a couple seek the Lord and dedicate their home to Him–and I think José and Melanie are those kind of people–then it will be a space for joy and laughter and healing and wholeness and peace.
I haven’t been there yet, but I don’t think the new Minay house is on a hill. I doubt I’ll worry as much about slick roads and maneuvering through the neighborhood. And whether it’s me or someone else, I hope there will come a day when someone will be sitting on their couch, surrounded by their dearest, held together by a space full of holy friendship’s peace and blessings.
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