Thursday, April 13, 2017

area of refuge

In the building I just moved into, filled with loft apartments in a former knitting mill, each floor has a designated “Area of Refuge.” These locations are situated near each floor’s entrance to the elevator and on the landings of the four floors, at least one on each end of the building. Residents, especially those with special needs, are instructed to gather in an Area of Refuge. There’s a callbox and a panel where one can “Push for Help.”

 Naturally, as with nearly all signs I encounter, this got me thinking. Don’t we all need an Area of Refuge, at least for part of the day, most days?

 As a grade school student, I once had to deliver something to the teachers’ lounge. The room was billowing with smoke from cigarettes and pipes. I was a messenger visiting a foreign country.  It was shocking. But today I would have to conclude that room was an Area of Refuge for those teachers. They needed a break. They seemed so much more relaxed and jovial. They were remarkably different from their classroom selves. Among them were likely non-smokers as well. It didn’t matter. All were there for a common purpose, despite the health dangers we now proclaim, but did not then.

 If we need Areas of Refuge for work, we need them elsewhere, too: at home, at play, in public, in private.

 Churches and other houses of worship over the centuries have served as sanctuaries, Areas of Refuge. This decade, whole cities, hundreds of them, have offered to be Areas of Refuge for undocumented immigrants.

 We all need a safe harbor now and then, legal or not. People in recovery programs understand the absolute value of radical hospitality when they enter a room where a meeting is held. They depend on it as an Area of Refuge. No questions asked. All are welcome.

 Today, near my new residence, walking to the nearby library, I saw a sign in a window of the elementary school (they used to call it a “magnet school,” but that’s another topic for another time). The sign said “Rescue Window.” I recalled times in my life when I was looking for a Rescue Window anywhere I could find one:  hallucinogens, alcohol, sex, you-name-it. Then I needed a Rescue Window for what I thought was my Rescue Window, because nothing was working.

 What’s your Rescue Window? Food? Yoga? Running? Hiking? Relationships? Quilting?

 The point is, we all need Areas of Refuge and Rescue Windows, even if we think “that’s for someone else.” We tend to think such places — real physical locations or more metaphorical ones — are for those less fortunate, the underprivileged, the hunted. That assumption is wrong.

 We all crave these things. Otherwise, there’d be no need of man caves, social clubs, knitting circles, places of worship, booster clubs, book clubs, flower guilds, PTOs, union halls, or bars.

 The lingering mystery, however, is “what do we do when we get there?” What do we do when we arrive at the Area of Refuge? Tell jokes? Calm nerves? (How?) Hold hands? Meditate? Pray? Sing rock ‘n’ roll oldies together? Tell ghost stories to each other?

 At the Rescue Window, are we reaching in or reaching out?

 The answers to these questions are endless. And I submit the answers don’t matter all that much, not as much as we imagine.

 What matters is being there, arriving at the Area of Refuge or Rescue Window. Together as we can be — awkwardly, fearfully, and hopefully.