Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs National Park; Hot Springs, Arkansas


Admittedly, I was planning on using one of two other songs as I scheduled the selection for the week; “Splish, Splash” by Bobby Darin or Loggins & Messina (depending on your preference), or “Rubber Ducky” by Sesame Street’s own Ernie. Both other songs are well more whimsical, but as I made my way to the charming area of Hot Springs, Arkansas on a wet and chilly winter day a new breeze blew through me. I began to think of the same Hot Springs water that is treated/cooled for the pleasure of tourists to enjoy at day spa as the water of healing and replenishing properties; How, I remember always hearing the phrase “there must be something in the water” about my own City of Houston Tap, thinking that there was something much more magical than fluoride the further away I would be able to drift.

And drift is what my mind does as I grace the solemn and quiet warm waters of my own tub. But, bathing is less frequent than a routine shower for me. Bathing requires of me a commitment to focus; to meditate; to listen for what is around me, amplified with ears underwater; to relax. To let go the schedule, the demands, the deadlines and commitments of the day. To understand that the rest of the world can wait and that it all drifts away.

I was making my way through Arkansas, on my way with less time than I remember scheduling, creeping up the tight turns of a mountainside to make a stop at an observatory in Hot Springs. The weather dictated that some of the greater detail I had mapped out ahead of my vacation would no longer be relevant as I was now fighting to capture limited resource of remaining daylight through the clouds and weather. It was going to storm, but to what extent I was unaware. I followed the signs for what I understood to be the National Park, but instead proved to be the observatory deck that I was about 10 minutes too late to reach if I had any intention of getting the daytime shot. So, inevitably, I thought that this was actually a vacation for me. Not only an assignment of my choosing.

The bath houses have a long and meaningful history for the area, something that nearly every local business has tailored in one way or another a tie too. Of the original Bath Houses on the row, some have been converted to other businesses, such as the restaurant that the Former Superior Bath house is. However, no less than 2 of the other houses are functional spa facilities that allow patrons the ability to soak in the waters of the springs (though treated, as described above) for a fee.

In high school, I fell deeply in love with this MTV Unplugged performance by Lauryn Hill. She was 2 years off of the success of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”; an acclaimed solo debut, had established a reputation as 1/3 of The Fugees’ sound and the world was focused on New York when the special, filmed in July of 2001, aired in 2002. Initially the performance was pulled from it’s original air date in lieu of MTV worrying that the material was too sensitive. Hill donned a Yankees ball cap on top of a silk scarf around her head, strumming an acoustic guitar and sharing more of her latest along tears, broken phrases and notes. It was raw, and imperfect, but honest.

I thought, as a 16 year old white kid that I understood all of what Hill was trying to explain. The reality was that I didn’t. Instead, I was in love with my bastardized interpretation, thinking that rebelling from the norms of expectation made some of my worst decisions ok. That, at the end of the day, the purpose of life was to build something to gain and worth having so that no one could take that away.

Nearly 18 years later, I have a different take on the song. That, life at it’s core is about building, but never to solely own. Build and invest in the people around you. Care for them, walk with them, and learn to share in the wins instead of focusing on what is lost.

And, if we have that unconditional support of one another, grace flows down like water “across the streams of our lifetime.”

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