Be Haven

My sister’s visit over the holidays went well, for those who’ve been wondering. I picked Gail up at the airport (on time!), we spent a night at my house, and then we tooled down to DC to take in some museums. The highlight of the excursion was the Vermeer exhibit, which was small but interesting. (And he’s one of my faves, for the domesticity, elegance, and warm-heartedness of his images.)

The whole exercise of sprucing up the house in anticipation of company got me thinking about safe spaces, and what they’ve meant in my life. There haven’t been  many, which is odd, because I have rarely been at risk of physical harm. The courtroom, for all its procedure and pomp, is not a safe place. People lose their kids in courtrooms. They get wrongfully convicted, they get away with murder.

Churches have not been safe places for me. Let’s start with I’m female and I was raised Catholic, and leave it at that.

But I have known places that felt safe to me. One was the newsroom of my college newspaper. The ensemble cast was full of quirky characters, but the job of getting out a morning daily made for camaraderie and a focus on getting the job done rather than backbiting or grumbling. By contrast, the Fortune 100 offices I have worked in (several) were full of politics, senior managers breaking rules, and a culture that demanded employees lean in to a company that was leaning with avaricious glee into profit uber alles.

My house is a safe place. I can be myself here. I (mostly) control who’s allowed in (Blossom the Possum and I are in negotiations). I can do pretty much as I need to do in this space, but for me a truly safe place has an element of emotional refuge that goes beyond the pleasures of solitude. Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in… something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” A truly safe place for me encompasses an element of acceptance–I’m not only welcome, but I’m welcome to be myself.

American culture, in my humble, does poorly at creating these places, for all our foghorning about individualism and community values. Maybe for some of us, the knitting club does the work of a safe place, or the horse barn, or the yoga class, but we lack “safe place” institutions. I think of the British local pub as such a place. For men, the hunting cabin or fishing trip might meet the definition. Libraries certainly have the potential.

My nephew, who teaches political science at a Swedish university, has a colleague who concluded that pub closures during COVID boosted political radicalization. If your pub really is a safe place, then people you don’t agree with are allowed to share it with you, and in that place, you treat each other civilly, even kindly, because them’s the house rules.

If you had to choose one place to interact compassionately and constructively with people whose beliefs diverge significantly from yours, where would that place be? I’ll add three commenters to my Miss Devoted ARC list!


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16 comments on “Be Haven

  1. Oh, what an interesting question!
    I think one of my safe spaces was a meditation group (pre Covid). One of the women who was there the first night but didn’t come back was very obviously worried about whether is was going to be psychologically safe for her, and I felt so badly for her. I want meditation spaces to feel safe for all! Having a place where you feel comfortable being yourself is so important, isn’t it?! And where you can feel accepted and seen, for who and what you are.

  2. For me one safe space has been backstage at theaters, both in high school and in college. Creative weirdos who are willing to work hard to learn their lines and enjoy pretending they’re someone else, or to build a stage set out of old lumber and whatever else can be cheaply had, all come together to give the audience a glimpse into another reality.

    I’m beyond thrilled to see that this is also true at my kiddos’ high school — perhaps even more so than in my teen years, because their school has managed to create a culture where it’s expected that the majority of the student body will participate in at least one performance (fall play or spring musical) during their four years, either on stage or backstage. It helps that they don’t do cuts .at.all. for the musicals — we sometimes have cast plus crew numbers in triple digits! I got pulled in to be part of the costuming crew after my eldest’s freshman year, and have been officially dubbed a theater mom by both my kids and their friends (apparently I give good “mom hugs”).

  3. I don’t know if it’s because I have all the worst characteristics of an eldest child, but I’m not very good at interacting “compassionately and constructively” with people whose beliefs are different from mine. Mostly that’s because when I know how wrong they are, I just want to help them see the error of their ways by explaining. If I could just point out the contradictions or lack of logic, surely they would change. I have more than a touch of “expertitis” and in most of my career, that was my strongest characteristic. People recognized that even if I didn’t know a particular thing, I could usually figure it out and explain it to them in a way they could understand. Mostly I was in the computer field so this worked out pretty well. I also taught computer classes at a community college and always made sure to explain the concepts by comparing them to real world, non-computer, examples. As I’ve aged/matured, I don’t always step in to correct people but the urge is still very strong. So I try to avoid other people and situations to keep everybody happier.
    My only real safe place is in my own head, in my own house.

  4. I have felt safe in my home, as cliche as that sounds. Filled with familiar things and familiar people, I share joys, lick my wounds, laugh and cry. Celebrate happy events and mourn those tragedies that invariably come to all of us.

    I never expected to feel confusion or dread in my own home but with the Pandemic, I have more than once. I don’t like those feelings—feelings of being off-balance, not knowing what will come next. That has been a real challenge and one I don’t see resolving any time soon

  5. What a challenge! My ideal would be a place well suited for my pets as well as myself, near the water, with trees and the company of , family, and friends visiting back and forth regularly. Oh and not really for from civilization.

  6. If those who disagreed with me were not so vehement and rude, I might say my Mom’s house is safe. My own house is only safe when I’m here with just my kitty cats. I’m not really allowed to have my own opinion in my house.

    I find that logic very rarely has a seat at the table when opinions are discussed.

  7. My house is my safe space now, although it has not always been that way, due to relationship discord of whatever type. But now I look at my home as my sanctuary. However, during the lockdown I had a lot of home repair issues that were difficult and expensive so I felt very unsafe emotionally in what should be my haven. Thankfully things are better now. The bank account suffered but my sanctuary is back. I agree that church should be a safe space but it isn’t really, or at least not reliably. I do have a few true friends with whom I feel safe to be myself, even if I am not witty or charming.

  8. Yikes, this requires thought! I also feel safe in my home, where I live with my husband and son, 3 dogs, and many cats.

    I’m not terribly social – I don’t go to church, and I still work full time. I hope to retire early next year. I had a coworker from New York who found himself a neighborhood pub as soon as he moved to Alabama, where I live. Right after work, he would head over there. He thought we were strange because we didn’t have a pub.

    I think our on-line Neighborhood pages work fairly well as a place to interact with all kinds of people, although that may be because we don’t really know each other’s beliefs. The tie is living in a common place and the chat is about the goings on where we live – such as local politics, someone not cutting their grass, or missing or found pets. Most people seem to be tolerant and want to help when people are in need. It is also a good place to rehome items rather than carting them to the landfill.

    I also visit two Goodreads pages daily where there are people I’ve chatted with for many years. We discuss politics, books, family, health, etc.

  9. My safe space is normally my home, where I have friends and family visiting frequently. However, recently my safe space was threatened when one of our invited friends refused to take a covid test before a visit, as we had requested of each of our guests. We are all older (one of the spouses is in his 90s and very frail), and we felt it was a logical and easy to fulfill request given the circumstances. Regretfully, when someone’s “personal beliefs” intersect with my and my friends’ safety, I have to draw the line. Sadly that person will no longer receive invites into our safe space.

  10. After thinking about this a while, I had a hard time coming up with places where many opinions, attitudes, and beliefs are welcome. My safe place is at bluegrass festivals. People are there for the music. Many diverse opinions and backgrounds, but we just enjoy the music. A lot of extremes today and as an “older” adult, I find it sad that the right to have an opinion is somehow not accepted anymore.

  11. As a child, my safe space was hiding in a tree and if not that playing at our neighbors house. Now my safe space is my home in New Hampshire surrounded by 160 acres of woods. A few days ago I saw a bobcat in the woods.

  12. I think that one of the many downsides of capitalism and cities designed around consumption and the nuclear family, is that we do not have a culture built around open space and free interaction. When you have a central Plaza or a promenade where families and groups of friends come to sit or stroll, freely socializing across generations etc. casually without having to buy anything, I think it ideally can create a sense of community that is often missing in the US. Not that we don’t have neighborhood identities etc., but cities are no longer built to facilitate it and I think it is isolating. I think it makes us feel less safe and widens the gaps between us. So, I guess I would like a beautiful central plaza with benches and familiar faces, and expected respect or respectful disagreement and a gun ban.

    As it is my out of the house safe space is yoga, the library, and the museum.

  13. I would have to say my safe place is my home, especially reading or cooking a new recipe. I can drift off and concentrate on something outside myself. One of our neighbors tried to enter our house (after arguing with us through the storm door) around 4 years ago. My husband grabbed the handle, we called the cops, and filed charges against her. Have not talked to her since then. It really is my safe haven.