Moments of peace are scarce commodities in this day and age. New COVID-19 variants and subvariants are emerging. Wildfires are tearing through the west coast. Inflation is on the rise. The opioid crisis continues to rage and the threat of mass gun violence looms heavily over the United States.
In these overwhelming times, a little rest and reflection can go a long way in brightening the spirits. Just outside the Oak Park Public Library’s Maze branch, awaits a little oasis in the form of a green bench – a place to sit and make sense of your thoughts.
A new addition to the library, the “positivity bench” was a gift from the West Towns chapter of The Links, Incorporated, an international volunteer service organization of professional women of African descent.
“We really wanted a place where people can come sit and talk and communicate with each other,” said Gina Banks Eanes, West Towns chapter president.
A plaque designates the piece of street furniture the “POSITIVITY BENCH.” The bench’s purpose is to boost the moods of those who sit there by providing a safe space for reflection and tranquility.
“If you’re just sitting by yourself in your own thoughts, know that you can do that in a safe environment,” said West Towns Links Beverly Singleton.
Libraries are famously quiet so as not to interrupt readers, but outside the Maze Branch, 845 Gunderson Ave., patrons are welcomed to sit on the bench and chat with others, even if you don’t know them.
“If someone’s feeling sad, you can have some place and someone to sit and talk with,” said Banks Eanes. “Personal connection is important.”
Martyn Churchouse, manager at the Maze, compared the bench to the buddy benches in school yards, where you sit if you want to make a new friend.
And who couldn’t use a friend these days? Social isolation marked the first year of the pandemic. While medical experts deemed it imperative to avoid gathering to prevent the spread of COVID-19, our relationships suffered. Loneliness prevailed.
An idea born out of isolation, the Maze bench is a part of a larger Links initiative to provide a safe haven for children and adults. Over 70 benches have been installed in the Midwest by different Links chapters. The one outside of the Maze is the first positivity bench to come out of the West Towns chapter.
Founded in 1976, the West Towns chapter has 34 members from all across the western suburbs. Several West Towns chapter members live in Oak Park, including Singleton. Its central location made it an especially attractive location but the decision to find the bench a home in Oak Park was rooted in more than just logistical convenience.
The village was chosen to honor the chapter’s beloved Oak Park alumnae, particularly founding West Towns member Sherlynn Reid, a champion of inclusivity and community service who died last year at 85.
“I still see her smile,” said Banks Eanes of Reid. “She was a wonderful woman, like all of the members of our chapter, but we truly, truly miss her.”
The Oak Park Public Library was a natural fit for the bench, according to Banks Eanes, as The Links, Incorporated promotes education and literacy through much of its community service. The library was more than happy to receive the gift.
“It’s just been a wonderful addition for us,” said Lori Pulliam, the library’s interim executive director.
The positivity bench appears to be working its magic already. Pulliam told Wednesday Journal the public’s response to the positivity bench has been “so positive,” a very apropos word choice. The bench has proved popular across all ages as well. Kids sit there waiting to be picked up. Others take in the views of the hydrangeas. Everyone is welcome.
Even library staff have been enjoying the bench. Churchouse, who was on vacation and thus unavailable for comment, often sits on the bench and chats with people about the library.
“That’s been an added benefit as well,” Pulliam said. “And he’s getting to have good conversations with Maze patrons.”
Thanks to the bench, Maze library goers also have a place to read comfortably outside. The bench is a new favorite spot for Oak Park resident Amy Lee, who was spotted on Saturday sitting on the bench, reading her latest library book.
“It’s just peaceful,” Lee said. “It’s a great place to sit, relax, have a moment of nature and fresh air and enjoy a book and see others in the community.”
When the state of the world feels just too bleak to bear, instead of resigning yourself to crushing anxiety, take a page out of Lee’s book. Head to the Maze Library. Take a deep breath. Sit down on the little green bench and clear your head. A little moment of peace could make a world of difference.