“When this old world starts getting me down And people are just too much for me to face I climb way up to the top of the stars And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof it’s peaceful as can be And there the world below can’t bother me…”
(1962) “Up On The Roof” – Originally recorded by: The Drifters (Multiple artists have covered this song.) Composers: Gerry Goffin & Carole King
In “Your Song” (1970) from Elton John, we get a hint of where his songwriting lyricist partner, Bernie Taupin liked to construct his lyrics.
“I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss. Well, a few of the verses got me quite cross…”
Lots of creativity can happen up on the roof.
It was July 4th, 2003 when I moved from Dallas, Tx to Buffalo, NY. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I left my wife and three daughters to take an afternoon-drive radio show at a long-standing Buffalo radio station. It was a promising, career-healthy move which was almost impossible to refuse. I had a lengthy radio resume in Dallas and I was at a place in life where a next step was essential. The idea was to live a lean solo life while hunting for a house to purchase. After the papers for the mortgage were to be signed, then I would move the family of five to our new home, along with our Yorkie, Great Dane, a hamster, a mouse, and a gerbil, all in an Isuzu Trooper.
After my feet hit Buffalo pavement, the first couple of weeks were spent in a motel room while searching for an apartment near the radio station in the downtown area. All I had with me was a stuffed suitcase, duffel bag, and a briefcase. Within walking distance of the radio station, I landed a tiny little furnished efficiency in an old brownstone right in the artsy district. It was near perfect for my needs at the time.
Never living in a city-life efficiency before, there was a learning curve to it. No elevators. I was on the top floor, the 4th floor. The basement (five flights down) housed the laundry area for the building. I was in good physical shape at that time, but it still challenged me each trip to wash my clothes. There was no air conditioning, of course, being Western New York. For this Texas lad, I wasn’t sure I could do without an air conditioner. However, the only silver lining, to the warm humid days, was the welcomed cool constant winds coming off Lake Erie.
As you can see in the photo, my two windows gave me a view of the apartment windows of the next building just a narrow driveway’s width away. Nobody kept their blinds shut when the windows needed to be open on warm summer days. You guessed it, very little privacy. Jimmy Stewart, in “Rear Window”, never would’ve needed binoculars in my apartment. In clear view of my neighbors, from the next building, was my bed. It was vertical inside a wall of my living room, just an arm’s-length away from my kitchen mini-fridge. When bedtime hit the clock, I just opened the door, pulled down the bed to the living room floor. The springs squeaked as my body stretched out on the thin musky mattress. Yep, there was a lot of adjusting for this suburbanite boy.
It took over three months to buy a house for my family, and moved in toward mid November. So, I had plenty of time to adjust to my new temporary home in the city. The streets were loud and busy. With the windows opened throughout the summer, the sounds of yelling, sirens, and the occasional car crash bounced off the walls of our buildings on the block. It always sounded as if everything was happening right outside my window. It proved to be a struggle keeping my focus when writing letters to my family, or trying to get some shuteye. Sometimes the noise was so overbearing, it pushed me out the door for a jog down by the Niagara break wall. At dusk it was a sight to watch the Canadian side of the river light up their street lamps.
On my trips up and down the hallways, I would pass a stairwell just off the 4th floor. Knowing there wasn’t a 5th floor, I would shrug my shoulders and move on. One day, after curiosity got the best of me, I followed the stairs to a set of old partially rusted Bilco doors.
As I reached the top of the stairs I saw the double doors were latched by a bolt from the inside. When I slid the bolt back it made a loud metallic clang that echoed down the stairwell. When I pushed open the heavy metal doors, the cool Erie winds hit my face. I had just discovered a large tar-sheeted flat roof of the building. I was pleasantly surprised. Whoever the property owners were they evidently didn’t see the value of constructing a patio-style wet-bar area with outdoor furniture, complete with table umbrellas. Instead, a large wasted space. But not for me. Immediately I found the sounds of the city were faded while displaying a view filled with the downtown slope which met the harbor and the mouth of Lake Erie. I personally enjoyed seeing the rooftops of the neighborhood showcasing old world architecture from the day when horse-drawn carriages, top-hats, and bonnets were the norm.
Throughout my time there, I visited the old quietened rooftop many times. I remember signing off the air at the studio, looking forward to climbing up the stairs to my new favorite place. It’s was a get-away where I would meet with the Creator, watch the sunset over the horizon, and sit on the half-wall at the edge of the roof thinking of how our new lives would be in Western New York. One weekend, in the fall, I remember seeing The Northern Lights for the very first time. God truly knows how to put on a light show. It was a place of comfort from the days of hardship, the rowdy sounds of the streets, and the worries of relocating across the country. When I see the photo from Google, my eyes first look up toward the rooftop.
Peace, enlightenment, and healing found on rooftops shouldn’t surprise anyone. In scripture, I am reminded of how a handicapped man was carried by four of his friends to the flat rooftop of a home where Jesus was meeting with a crowd who packed a house. The entryway was not negotiable. The Miracle Worker was healing gobs of people in need all throughout the region. In a desperate move by these men, they reached the roof above where Jesus was teaching, punched a hole in the roof to lower their lame friend to Him on a mat. Up on the roof love and faith was accessed that day. In Acts 10, the Apostle Peter was praying up on the roof of a friend’s house when God got his attention concerning the issue of grace vs law, love vs religious racism. Peter found access to the truth up on the roof that day. In the book of Joshua, a woman hid two spies of Israel in Jericho from their enemies up on her housetop. For them, there was access to security up on the roof. After Solomon felt weary of domestic feuds in the home, twice in Proverbs he mentions it’s better to live in the corner of a roof than with a person (woman) of contention. (I’m trying to be kind on this one. Apparently he must’ve lost a few battles with some of his wives. LOL)
Maybe your place of solitude isn’t up on the roof. It could be your roof isn’t easily accessible, or physically safe. For you it might be in your car with the radio turned off. Possibly it’s on your bike on an open road. Maybe it’s a place in your garage, or your barn. I have an old friend who found his access under the roof of his lawn shed. For many, it’s out on a lake in a boat, a coastline of a lake, a boulder sitting by a creek. I have a cousin who finds her place of solitude up in the saddle of her horse. Scripture reads the closet is a good place.
One thing is certain, there is a way of escape. There is a stairwell to a place to be solo. You might need to “kick off the moss” first. In these times of violence, disturbance, pandemic, and masked faces, meeting with the Spirit of God can happen anywhere. When you find it, that is a place you will always be fond of.
Getting away from the news, social media, and the crashing noise of profanity, there’s always room for two up on the roof with a ample supply of fuel for the race.
“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” – Jesus – Matthew 10:27 (NAS)