I once wanted to write a short story about a man who moved to a town like Bisbee and bought a blue house. In the story, the man didn't truly understand why he came to that town and bought such a colorful house. He only knew that the life that was now behind him, a life of striving, was finished. What he wants now is a life lived differently. While the man cannot live his life over, he can at least live the rest of his life, long or short, awakening his heart to another world.
I didn't know how the story would end, but I knew what I wanted to name it: "The Blue House." I never finished the story but I knew it was important. And then I saw a painting in a gallery in Jerome, AZ titled, "The Blue House." The house was on the side of a mountain, like so many in Bisbee. And the gallery itself looked out over the vast valley that lay stretched out below another town that housed a Phelps Dodge mine. Seeing the picture began to open me up to the mysteries of the story and why I wanted to write it.
photo of Old Bisbee by Ted Weller
For nearly all of our lives we live in a kind of flat, horizontal dimension, the dimension of efficiency, of having and of getting, and of achieving. We live mostly in our heads. Our hearts are asleep. Cities on the plain surrounded by endless suburbs stretching mile after mile to the horizon are the perfect symbol for this way of life.
When we see Bisbee for the first time, we sense the possibility for living another way. This is in no small part because Old Bisbee is built on the walls of two canyons. Life here is lived more in the vertical than the horizontal dimension. Philosophers have long used the vertical as the symbol of relationship and belonging, of love, of art, of our connectedness to the world and others. It's not just philosophers who grasp this difference.
Why do kids love houses up in the air, tree houses above the ground? Isn't this their way of creating a special community, a magical world governed by the mysteries of love and the imagination perched above the boring flatland down on the ground? Aren't our myriad of Bisbee stairs another sign that life here is lived in another dimension, that the mysticism of everyday life lays closer to the surface here?
In the vertical dimension, the nature of having can be transformed, softened. We must have shelter for protection and ease, but all too often houses in the wider world of getting and having become our masters, symbols more of success and status rather than places for companionship and affection.