“Just take me somewhere safe.”
If someone answered that way when you asked them if they needed a ride, what would you do? Where would you go?
MSH saw a man looking a bit lost and bewildered, carrying a backpack and a sleeping bag. He bought lunch for the guy at McDonalds and chatted some. Said he was a veteran but hadn’t seen combat. He said he had a family out of state, five kids and a wife. He seemed nervous and a bit uncertain. Parts of his story didn’t make sense with other things he said.
He didn’t want to go to a shelter, or to a VA hospital, or a food kitchen. He finally just asked MSH to drop him off at a shopping center, near a spot where a group of guys had gathered with their restored cars. MSH asked them if any of them were Veterans. A few were, so he explained about this man he’d tried to help who, in the meantime, wandered away and couldn’t be found again.
When MSH told me about this encounter my worry meters buzzed. Such things make me wish I could fix the world. But of course, that isn’t possible.
I’ve read recently about Mother Teresa who, when asked about the huge task before her, replied….
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” ~ Mother Teresa
I’m surely no Mother Teresa, but I do try to make a tiny difference where and when I can. I help at a local Food Bank from time to time. I donate to charity. I offer my services regularly in a variety of volunteer opportunities. On occasion my home has served as a sanctuary of sorts.
We have a family friend or two who drops in from time to time. They see our home as a safe place to land, or a spot to score a slice of bread, which really means a slice of caring and a listening ear. Once, on sitting down at the kitchen bar to some fresh homemade bread and strawberry jam, one of these friends said something about finding sanctuary in our home.
That caught me off guard.
Sanctuary sounds like somewhere sacred and set apart and rare. My home? A sanctuary?
Another friend I know has told the story of a man at church who asked her why she sat in the hall during part of our worship service. She replied that she felt awkward and out of place because she’s single and so often seemed left surrounded by empty chairs rather than by mostly-married worshippers of our congregation. This kind, younger, married man, sweetly put his arms around her and hugged her tight. She proceeded to sob. She said she hadn’t been hugged by a man in decades and felt his kindness in that platonic squeeze. From that day forward if he is at church he has saved her a seat next to him and kept a lookout so he could pat the chair and let her know it’s saved just for her. My friend found sanctuary in a house of God in the most unexpected of ways.
I know this man, and he’s no Mother Teresa either. But he saw a need and has done his best to fill it. He’s a saint in one person’s eyes.
The word sanctuary finds its roots weaving through Middle English from French. Before that it started with the Latin word “sanctus” which means “holy.”
Anything we do to alleviate another’s sadness, to lift a person’s burdens or to cheer a weary soul is a holy act.
We can all provide sanctuary, if not in actual brick and mortar, at least in deed and action and maybe even in word.
Perhaps the sanctuary we provide is simply the small space around us as we provide a reassuring hug, a human touch to a person aching to feel loved in some small way. Maybe we rub a set of tired shoulders for a few seconds to push courage and fellowship into weary shoulders.
Perhaps the sanctuary we’re in is a porch swing where a heartfelt conversation takes place, temporarily lifting the weight of worry or sadness.
Perhaps the sanctuary we create is in the holding of our bitter tongue, the forgiving of long held grievances, or a word of thanks. Perhaps our smile creates a sanctuary that carries someone through to the next way station for disillusioned travelers.
Another quote by tiny but powerful Mother Teresa says, “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”
Are we tossing coins when a slice of bread is needed? I hope not. Are we giving out bitter sponges soaked in vinegar when a glass of cool water is all that’s required? I pray not.
To be completely honest, I have turned away when a need was evident, mostly because I doubted my ability to lift or cheer or make a difference. Sometimes my own needs kept my eyes looking inward and I simply couldn’t or refused to see another’s need. Sometimes I’ve just been world weary myself and needed my own sanctuary.
We aren’t always on one side of the equation. As humans we often find ourselves on the other side of needing. That helps us feel compassion when the roles switch places again.
Hopefully I learn and apply the knowledge when facing a person in need of sanctuary.
“Take me someplace safe,” the weary one says, “wherever that is.”
I hope I know where that place is and how to get there. I hope others are also willing and able to help as well.
“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