When the notion of creating “safe spaces” on college campuses arose, I rolled my eyes. College/University campuses, for me, are and should be the ultimate unsafe space, in the best possible way: to expand your head, turn your thoughts upside down, and stuff whole new ones in all that new space. It opens one’s reality and some of reality is scary, but necessary.
Added to this principled stance is a healthy dollop of resentment: a childhood of all-too-real reality left me a bit sneering of those in need of “safe spaces”. Gut it up, Princess, I wanted to say, because I’d had no choice. Which is nobody’s fault, entirely unfair, and dismisses the years of counseling required to make peace with the aforementioned early and real reality.
Because the Universe loves Irony, I find need a safe space, and I see a lot of my friends are similarly struggling with the Great Ick currently infesting politics, religion, everything. It’s this way or that. Black or white. My way or the highway. It all makes my head hurt, and my heart hurts, too. For a very long time my reality has been increasingly gray and nuanced. Not in a grim way; in the way that truths I once held sacred and concrete I realize are entirely dependent upon circumstance, and the common good, and how I regard and practice my faith.
As things have gotten uglier, I find that being part of the Jesus Movement, like being an American, is Hard. Jesus calls upon us to care for the least, the lost, and the last, and to love our neighbors as ourselves in a country that is increasingly telling them to go to Hell, and the loudest voices are doing it in Jesus’ name. I just seriously don’t know what to do with that.
So I threw up my hand and said, Help, and asked a bunch of friends I see similarly struggling, y’all want to talk? Somewhere where we won’t get beaten up? A surprising number said, Yes, please.
S***** is working with her eldest son, demonstrating and canvassing in support of policies they believe in. I get a sense of young, passionate people thoroughly energized and committed to change. Like me, she seems bewildered by the blatant denial of empirical fact so prevalent in current events, the repetition of lies taken as fact and left unchallenged, a frustration that has both of us alternately wanting to pull out our hair or scream. Well, maybe that’s just me; she’s pretty chill, actually.
I wondered what it had been like last year on campus, with kids affected by the Administration’s odious policies on Immigration, the DACA kids. G**** told us of a young man in one of her AP English classes who’d simply disappeared. She’s a teacher kids talk to, even on a campus where “snitches get stitches” and eventually she learned he was undocumented, and terrified to leave his house. When he was persuaded to return to school he was a different boy, completely shut down. Nothing any of his teachers could do, brought back that missing boy.
Being women, we worried about the Supreme Court and Roe Vs. Wade. Both L** and I worried about loved ones for whom a repeal of LGBTQ rights would be catastrophic. G**** reminded us that Native Peoples have always recognized those “of two spirits”. It’s all part of Creation, and they don’t really get the White Man’s weirdness with it. Also, that the United States has a long history of separating children from their parents.
There was talk of New Zealand, Canada. Joking talk. Maybe? Maybe.
We agreed there has never been a time when fact-checking was more essential before passing on information. These days not all “information”, is.
I recalled flipping channels and finding The American President on TV, right at the speech about America is Hard. You’ve got to be willing to listen to other folks say things abhorrent, to ensure one’s own right also to speak one’s mind, even to authority. But, we must be safe to speak our minds; that’s what the Framers of the Constitution wanted.
We wondered that folks seem to wish to return America to a nostalgic past which never existed in reality except for White men, recalled when Congress worked across the aisle, and the news was delivered in 30 minutes without emotion or spin. Who’s nostalgic now? Why, that would be me!
Perhaps what hurts so much in today’s polarized environment is that some of the Ick is coming at us from within our immediate circles, the people with whom we were once safe. Not a lot feels safe, or sacred, lately.
But in a Starbuck’s in North Central Texas friends gave me the gift of sacredly safe space, of pure, unadulterated grace, and it felt good to release a collective sigh of wtf…..? Having done so, we all agreed that staying engaged, with a nod to self-care, is essential. The easy road is to become overwhelmed and throw up the white flag. Better to turn off for a day, recharge, and start again refreshed. Thank you, Ladies, for giving me a safe space. Can’t wait to see you all again!
When the news is awful and you just want to pull the covers over your head, where (or who?) is your safe space? What kind of self-care are you using to keep yourself sane in insane times?