They had a dog. A big, beautiful, wonderfully calm, long-haired golden retriever. And sitting on the floor with him — stroking his silky hair and listening to his contented breathing — was possibly the most peaceful thing about my life in 2003-2005.
Sometimes, I even got to walk him.
They also had what felt like a home. They had two kids – teenagers – and their dog and their life and their friends and their work. She talked to her mom on the phone every couple of days (I remember her answering it often when I was there – an old, hanging-on-the-wall phone) and they went for long morning walks along the river. They got the newspaper. They always had a pot of coffee on. I guess I felt like that’s what it was to be an adult. To have a home, and a routine, and a family, and a rich life woven together.
Their home was like a refuge to me – a haven of security and stability during wandering college and post-college years, when I was living with countless roommates, with haphazard furniture and random posters tacked onto the walls, eating Trader Joe’s frozen burritos for dinner. When I visited their home, I wanted to spend hours there (and often did) – learning from them and absorbing their life. I wanted to be transformed by their (seemingly) calm, collected, stable selves.
I felt cared-for there.
(Looking back, I see now how completely ironic it is that this home was actually in Manhattan – the very place where I have found it so hard to make a home. The very place that most people view as chaotic and loud and absolutely un-home-like.)
A few years ago, I participated in a life-changing nine-month fellowship program, and I hosted the women in my weekly discussion section for dinner a couple of times. They were so grateful – and almost effusive – afterwards that I realized that simply being in a family home, for them, was like a haven. A refuge. (Some of the women were older than I and some younger, but I was the only one married — let alone with two kids!)
Last fall, my husband and I hosted and led what our church calls a “beta group” – a small group of people who get together to discuss the sermon from the past week in an effort to form community and accountability and a safe space in a big church in a big city. The beta groups are exploratory and last just nine weeks (you can choose to continue or not after the initial “beta” phase. Many continue meeting for years and result in lifetime friendships). In our group, 90% of our attendees were young, new to the city, looking for work, and looking for community. I realized that to them, our family home – even with its of-nice-origins-but-bought-on-Craigslist furniture and framed wall posters – was a haven. A refuge.
On a recent morning, I dropped both kids off at a friend’s apartment so I could attend a workshop at my son’s school. My husband had been out of town for what felt like forever at that point, and I was pretty desperate for his return. Every hour of every day seemed hard and heavy, and I felt like I couldn’t handle my children – their behavior seemed to be spinning out of control and I had no idea where the steering wheel was, let alone what to do with it if I could find it.
Everyone needs a haven – a place of safety and security and cared-for-ness. Everyone needs a refuge.
That morning, I arrived on her doorstep disheveled and desperate and running later than I had wanted (of course). She opened the door, welcomed my kids in, and I burst into tears (for the second time that morning. It was 8:45am).
“Just take as long as you need,” she told me, holding me tight in a hug. “You can stay here for a minute before heading out, and then once you’re out – get a cup of coffee afterwards, go do something for yourself – just take the time that you need. We’ll be here, and we’ll be fine.” (I might have been more hesitant dropping off my two recently-turned-holy-terrors if she didn’t have four older kiddos of her own.)
But the truth was – I didn’t actually want any more time away. I certainly didn’t want to take advantage of her favor — but I actually just wanted more time in her home.
Everyone needs a haven. Everyone needs a refuge. Everyone includes me.
My I’m-married-and-have-a-family home can be a refuge. To some, my home may feel “established” and “stable:” a place of security and comfort. But I still need a place like that, too. A refuge outside of my own home. It doesn’t matter that I’m no longer in my twenties and no longer single and no longer eating frozen food for dinner (but is leftover mac-and-cheese really any better?).
It wasn’t a big deal for my friend to watch my kids for 90 minutes (or let me stay there for an hour after the workshop). It wasn’t a big deal for me to have my discussion section over for dinner, or to host a bunch of newbie New Yorkers for nine Monday nights. It probably wasn’t a big deal for me to take that big, beautiful dog for a walk. But each situation provided something vitally important – a refuge.
Maybe I’m an adult now, with my automatic coffee pot and growing kids and New Yorker subscription. But even I still need a refuge.