Sunday, March 01, 2020


“Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing.”
― Rachel Naomi Remen

Sanctuary derives ultimately from the Latin sanctus, "holy". By medieval law, fugitives could not be arrested if they took refuge in a church, whence the meaning of sanctuary as "safe haven" derives.

My sanctuary: in the silent hours after the rest of the house shuts down for the night, with peaceful music playing in the glow of my monitor's light. My sanctuary: the touch of a hand in the dark, caressing, one nail lightly scratching, as I climb into a bed freshly sheeted. My sanctuary: any space where I feel fully understood, fully appreciated, fully loved. That's not a place, that's a person. People, actually. Not many.

Us introverts need sanctuaries. The energies of the world are overwhelming to us. Growing up, my sanctuary was my bedroom: being sent to my room was a reward for the likes of me. All my books were in there, and each one was like a wormhole into another world, far from the screaming and smashing of crockery in the kitchen below. Where other kids went outside, I retreated to that bedroom.

I'll never forget the weekend my sanctuary was ripped away from me. We lived in the Whitehills neighbourhood of London, on Aldersbrook Gate in a semi-detached home not much different from the one I live in today. Thursday afternoon, summer. I was already angry with my mom for some forgotten reason, and grew angrier when she told me I was not allowed to go ride my bike for a couple of hours like I wanted to. Half an hour, she said, no more.
Well, I needed out of the house, and half an hour was (maybe) better than nothing, I reflected with the awesome  put-upon bitterness only a thirteen year old can muster. But I was in a state of high piss-off, and  I get (even more) klutzy when my emotions run high. Out in the shed, I inadvertently hip-checked the giant bag of dog food, which spilled  into the dirt floor. Fuck me, I thought but did not say. (There's no way they could have heard me, since I was in the shed and they were in the house, but my mother would have sensed the word somehow. I just knew it. So I never said it out loud.) Fuck me, it's going to take a full half hour just to get this shit cleaned up. I decided this was unacceptable, and simply hand-shovelled all the food back into the bag, dirt and all.

Not my brightest moment, several ways. For one, that's just selfish and rude. For another, I can't for the life of me imagine how I thought I wouldn't get caught.

Caught I was, the next day. They told me to go to my room for the weekend...and when I got there, absolutely none of my comforts were there with me. My bookshelves: empty. They even took my CLOCK.

That weekend was torture. Friday night, I could hear my mom ranting and raving (quietly, but loud enough to be heard, she was an expert at that) about what a jerk she had for a son. I could hear everything through the floor vent. Especially "hey...let's get....PIZZA!!!"

Without a clock, time ceased to exist. I was stuck in that room for seven and a half eternities. Under my bed was a package of  cassette tape cleaner, with directions for use in English, French, German and Spanish. They were the only words in the room, and I spent hours memorizing them.

On Saturday, my parents went out for a few hours, warning me before they did that I was not to leave my room under any circumstances. Of course, as soon as they were gone, I had to pee. Badly. Fu--dge it, I said, and opened my bedroom door to go to the bathroom.



I tapped my kidneys and went downstairs to make a peanut butter sandwich. (They had provided meals and water as necessary, but peanut butter sandwiches in freedom are better than anything eaten in captivity: try them and see. I then came back upstairs and spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out how to close the door and tape it back up with me on the other side of it.

This can not be done. Trust me on that.

I confessed to the bathroom, not the sandwich, when they got home, actually daring to say "what did you expect me to do, piss in the corner?" Piss wasn't as bad as fuck, but my stepfather got clouted growing up for saying "damn", He claimed to have forgotten which was the bad word, damn or darn. His parents didn't buy that excuse, and furthermore told him they'd have clouted him for saying either word: if he wasn't sure which was bad, they both were. That was the kind of house I grew up in.

I waited for the thunder. I still recall Fleetwood Mac jumping into my brain: "thunder only happens when it's..pissing"....isn't it odd how song lyrics pick the craziest and least appropriate moments to show up in your head? No thunder came. I think they realized in that instant, the instant I dared to say "piss",  that they'd gone too far.
I was let out Sunday just before noon, almost 24 hours early. My room was restored to its booky state, but it never felt quite the same again.

I try to carry my sanctuary with me in my head. If you see me zone out in public, that's where I've gone. Away. Safe.

I hope you have a sanctuary that you visit regularly. It makes life a lot more bearable.

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