“What is your place of sanctuary?” he asked.
Stymied, my mind worked, my voice did not. I would have to think about that question
before I answered.
We were leaving Zion National Park, a place of incredible beauty and vast space. Where ancient civilizations lived nomadically until the coming of Mormon settlers. I have no doubt that all its various people have stood in awe when first seeing the mammoth canyon surrounding the Virgin River. Its majesty surpassed only by its sense of peace, it served as sanctuary for a progression of inhabitants before it became a stunning refuge for us all. People have come and gone from that sanctuary for eons.
My sanctuary. I’ve had a few safe havens in my lifetime. As a child, it was a tree house. As a teen,it was my room. As a young mother, it was a sun room where I could view the Mississippi River and read a book. As a woman on my own, it was a log home in
When I think of my sanctuaries, I often think of the accoutrements that have filled the spaces of my sanctuaries. Books, photographs, artwork, dishes, flowers, overstuffed furnishings. Things collected with great passion and over time. A few things with meaning. Lots of things without much.
When I set out to start life on my own again, I left most of it behind or gave it away. All gone but the bare essentials of my library of books. My bone china and Waterford crystal that I received as a young bride, given away. Artwork. A diamond. Furniture. The four-poster bed I shared with my ex-husband. Home accessories with little significance but good “feel.” The perennial garden I had cultivated.
I took with me family photographs, two watercolors, an antique armoire, what I call my “most significant” books. I brought along the trunk that my great-grandmother hauled to California and Oklahoma before settling in Kansas. The Navajo rug that my grandmother
bought by the road in the Grand Canyon in the late 30s. The black and white picture of my great-grandfather as part of a crew in a wheat field in Kansas. My sterling silver. A note
written by my grandmother stuffed inside a porcelain pitcher: “Bought at World’s Fair in Chicago, 1935.”
I have called 15 different places home in my lifetime and each move meant more and more things to pack into a truck. I remember that before the moving van departed for the last move of our family there were items strapped to the outside of the back door. Lots of things.
My grandmother lived nearly to the age of 101. She raised four boys and my mother, living
the relentless life of a woman married early in the last century to a poor farmer. When her four boys returned from World War II, they all decided to leave Kansas and give a go at raising turkeys in Arizona. She picked up and moved halfway across the country in a pickup truck. And she did not return to Kansas until the end of her life was
nearing. Her husband, my grandfather, died 40 years earlier. She lived alone, with the loving care and help of friends and family, until she was 99. An hour away from her closest child, my mother.
One day she called my mother to tell her that it was time. She no longer felt she should live alone. She was ready to move into the nursing home that looked out on the shady park in the small town she lived in. The call came a week after my mother
had open heart surgery and my mother was struggling to recover her health.
My father called me in Illinois and asked if I would come and arrange my grandmother’s move. I have always been known as organized and my kids were old enough at that time that my husband could manage things in my absence. I would do what my mother could
not do and arrived at my grandmother’s ready to sort, clean, organize and
pack. I was not sure how to go ahead–did she know what she wanted to take, what she wanted to give away?
It was all so simple in the end. When the time came, all that my grandmother
took with her fit into an old cigar box. A picture of each of her five children, 11 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren . A copy of an Arizona Highways magazine. A picture of my grandfather. A few old letters. Some buttons that belonged to her
mother. An embroidered towel. Some costume jewelry.
That was all she needed to move to her next and last place. It made sense, once I thought
about it. She was my inspiration when I picked up my life and placed it far off somewhere that I never thought it would be. She made me realize that every time
I was picked up and moved to a new place, I had mistakenly thought that by
moving in my many possessions, I could recreate my sanctuary. So many times after a truck was unloaded I had surged into high gear to make the new house my home. My refuge was to be surrounded by my possessions.
I have lived in several lovely homes. One dream home. I still live in surroundings I enjoy. But I have come to realize that memories surround a place but are not exclusively owned by it. That many of us have many sanctuaries and most sanctuaries have many inhabitants. That what we have in the way of memories, feelings, values and
connection is lasting. All else passes.
And so I answer him. My sanctuary this week was found as we hiked to Angel’s Landing, as we rode our bicycles down Zion Canyon, as we watched the 4-hour old colt with its
mother, stood in arm’s reach of a herd of buffalo, as we lugged cameras and
nursed sore muscles. I have come to realize that my sanctuary is a place in my soul, not a
spot on the map or a house on a hill. It travels with me from place to place, changing as I do.