My mom is famous for presenting “meal questions.” Does your mom do that? It’s really growing on me, as I get older. I remember when we were kids she would have to pull the answers out of us, but now, it’s a charming family tradition to which we look forward.
They can range from the whimsical, “if you could only keep three things, what three things would ya’ll keep?” (Yes, she is from East Texas.) To the classics, “if you could have a dinner party with ten guests from any period in time, who would make the list?” This weekend she asked everyone to go around and detail his or her happy place. Ahhh, what a delightful thing to think about! Is it the place you grew up? A favorite vacation spot? A particular tree, grove or river? A loved one?
While the conversation ensued it got me thinking about another kind of place, a safe place.
I have experienced the need for a safe place, as I imagine all of you have. I know in my bones the profound power people can hold as safe places. What do I mean? We need them for different reasons at different times in our lives.
But, let me explain with a particularly intense example from my own life. Several years ago, about a decade actually, I was working in Indonesia. While in Malaysia to renew my visa, I was brutally attacked. Despite the years, if I close my eyes now, I can feel the emptiness, the loneliness and the loss of pieces of myself. Through a series of miracles, the support of my family and an unbelievable network of friends, I was invited to stay with a pair of strangers while I got my mind around what to do next. With their address scribbled on the back of a bookmark I had been clutching for hours, I went to the strangers’ apartment building and knocked on the door. I had arrived in Bangkok steeped in shock. An American transplanted to Thailand by a love of people answered the door and welcomed me and my unknown. He and his kindhearted wife have worked with young women coming out of prostitution in Thailand for decades. They are familiar with women surviving trauma, and they are dedicated to the long game, to a degree I have rarely seen. They pretended (convincingly) not to be shocked by what appeared at their door that night. Lost, confused and bruised, they welcomed me into a space that would become just what I needed:
A safe place.
They didn’t pry or push, and the kindhearted wife sat with me for hours as I smoked countless cigarettes crutched in a ball in the corner of their balcony. She looked into my glassy, sleep-deprived eyes and said, ‘we don’t have to talk, honey, I will just sit here with you.’ The enormity of her patience, her ability to be with someone in pain is an unrivaled service of healing. Don’t get me wrong, I had a long road ahead, but the love, lack of judgment, and openness with which I was received at my lowest, gave me a starting point for healing.
I know that this piece of my story is intense. And while I hope you never have to deal with such incredible brutality and trauma, I have also come to know that each and every one of us needs a safe place at different times for different reasons. I also know that we each have a wide variety of opportunities to provide a safe place. Sometimes we simply need a safe place to recover from a bad day at work, a disappointment from a loved one, a break from the grueling expectations to which we hold ourselves. How can we serve one another by being a safe place? Do you have a safe place? Can you be a safe place for somebody else? Can you be a safe place for yourself? What does that look like for you?
I get see my safe place partners from Bangkok once in a while and every time I do, I am overcome with gratitude. I will never forget their kindness. They gave a tremendous gift I didn’t even know I needed then. In this world we are bound for some bumps, and it is my sincere hope that I can serve someone in being a safe place, and find our own safe place whenever the need arises.
If you would like more information on the couple in this post, their work, or healing from sexual violence, please contact me.