Sanctuary

January 3, 2014 – 7:52 pm

(Semi-relevant comic here.)

I grew up in other people’s basements, page couches, guest rooms. The beanbag in Andy’s room. Gill’s dinner table, Heidi’s kitchen; anywhere Lynne May’s kids weren’t already sleeping. Sumana and Leonard’s apartments, under wildly colored blankets on the floor or on the pull-out sofabed. Matt’s futon, living room, and futon; Steve’s loft. In Andrew’s tent, on Maker House’s kitchen floor in a sleeping bag on a yoga mat, on pika’s porch. The places and people who took me in when I was running away from… I’m not sure how to articulate what I was scared of, but away from that. Spaces where I could try myself out, take a shot at being in my own skin.

Sometimes it was uncomfortable, some combination of hard, wet, or cold. For a while, I associated poverty with freedom; nobody could take this lifestyle away from me. I know was never really poor; I was a child of privilege who had a laptop, health insurance, and a couple thousand dollars that would take me from anywhere in the world to somewhere my family would have to take me in. I also knew the tradeoff for that would be independence, so I never touched that buffer, even when it meant skipping meals and wearing holes through shoes and walking hours to save $2 on bus fare, and I worried about money and not-troubling people, and I’m glad people saw that and opened their doors and pulled me in anyway.

All the homes who gave the gift of room and time to an angry, exhausted little nomad: how do I thank them? For the meals cooked, the leftovers packed, an unexpected fancy restaurant glass of port from Chris and Wendy in the middle of days of eating rice and beans in New York? For how glorious a large and sun-swept bathroom is, with long hot showers and a fluffy towel, after you’ve slept inside your car? The chance to see, without coercion, how other people live their lives — how other homes and families might function, so that you can see them as you’re learning to envision anything in future tense? (Andrew recently wrote that my personality is longer-term and more sustainable now; I think one prerequisite for that was seeing myself even just existing past the age of 30.)

How thankful I am, even now, for sanctuaries and retreats. And how I want to build my home to be a temporary nest for wayward strays in turn. “If you run a place,” says Sumana, “if you have the opportunity to provide hospitality, isn’t that amazing? That you can help jog a person out of their rut, that your consulate can offer amnesty?”

I’d like that opportunity. My home will always have a guest room. Right now it’s a sofa. Someday it will upgrade to a comfy bed with fluffy towels. It won’t always be full, but on occasion, it will give the gift of room and time within a household where one has no obligations. And extra chairs around the dinner table, with late-night talks if someone’s hungry for them. And food — to eat, to take home, to be nourished by in more ways than one. Books to read, and space and silence; space and silence above all.

I want to build a home where kids like younger-me can learn one version of what homes are like so they can figure out how they would like to build their own.

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