I have always found sanctuaries. Once, I lived in a house that had a sort of closet under the stairs. No one used it, no one went into it at all – except me. I created a sort of place for myself there, with cushions and books.

Places in the forest behind the house were sanctuaries. Particularly where a stream ran by the roots of a large tree, and there was a sort of island where we used to play Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson. Putting acorns on leaves for food.

A sanctuary is any place where you can rest. Any place where you can feel at peace with yourself and the world. It’s a place where you breathe a sign of relief.

People can be sanctuaries too, I think. There are people with whom you can sit back, say to yourself “Yes, this.”

I’m writing about sanctuaries because this is such a busy time, and that’s exactly what I need: a sanctuary. A place where I can put down my head, rest for a while.

But I don’t think I’m going to get one, not a real one, in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. So I’m going to create one inside my head, imagine one. The imagined sanctuaries are sometimes the most useful, because they cost nothing and are fully portable. You can be walking along a busy road, hurrying somewhere, and suddenly you’re thinking:

A cottage by the sea, and the sound of the waves, and at night lighting a fire to warm yourself. And a mug of tea, and perhaps a friend and conversation. Or no conversation. And the sound of the waves all night, and the gulls in the morning.

Books are sometimes sanctuaries (again, portable). Even poems I find in random places can take me away, for a little while. Tonight, I found Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese,” and that’s a sort of sanctuary in verse. It goes like this:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

People can be sanctuaries, and places can be sanctuaries, and the whole natural world can be a kind of sanctuary, a place where we can rest, where we can feel at peace.  I started by writing that I find sanctuaries, but I think the truth is that I create them, whether in my head or in my life.  Or sometimes even in my writing.

At the Great Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary (some time ago, but memories can be sanctuaries too):

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3 Responses to Sanctuary

  1. nina orlovskaya says:

    Certain memories make bubble of time that never burst. Those are the sanctuaries. And not only the places where one can rest but also strange places, while you are there, make you sort of invisible and invincible. At first you may find them by accident and later you learn consciously to form them, leave them behind and remember their addresses. Every time when you feel sort of déjà vu moment that is it, intact bubble of time… very nice post

  2. I have loved that poem by Mary Oliver for a long time – thanks for posting it.
    I’m only a week into the current semester of my graduate program, but I’m already in need of sanctuary. So I like to think about each summer when I hike in the Adirondacks of upstate NY with my father-in-law and husband. I remember how I feel at the top of one of the High Peaks – shaky, terrified, having fought my fear of heights the entire way up, but tremendously satisfied and with the most amazing view to look at. In the words of another hiker: “It’s hard to believe that this place is on the same planet at New York City”.

  3. I love the idea of bubbles that never burst! It reminds me of watching soap bubbles floating, irridescent. 🙂

    Heather, best of luck with the grad program! (As you can see, I’m just finishing mine . . .)

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