For the love of sanctuary

In times of upheaval, noise, and fear, like those we’re going through now with the Trump administration’s penchant for dishonesty, disregard for equal rights, and seeming dislike for democracy itself, finding healthy places of refuge are important. I can’t tell you what the healthiest places are for you, I can tell you what they are for me.

Books, music, dance, nature, love,  are all sanctuaries for me. In his essay, “Nature”, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Here is a sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes. Here we find nature to be the circumstances which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her.” I agree with Emerson, far beyond the reach of any mastery of words I might have in my possession.

For me, the sanctuary found in nature’s embrace protects the soul while the sanctuary in a loved one’s embrace protects the heart. We are all connected.

And yes, of course, music. Classical, jazz, international, Springsteen, the Beatles, and so on. The right music can take the blues away and allow an already happy day to strut its stuff in the clouds. Nature and music aside, it is safe to say books are my primary refuge. They have been for nearly as long as I have memory.

Of all the gifts my parents gave me, I rank my love of reading at the top. I read thirty to forty-something books a year on average. I am baffled by those who go through life without them. No doubt they are aware of other sanctuaries life offers that are utterly lost on me. I hope so. We all need them, and, more importantly, we all deserve them. From my days of homelessness to now, being connected to a book makes the shifting currents of life easier to manage.

Through good times and bad, if you’ll permit me the use of an all too worn phrase, I’ve been part of the infinite number of worlds found in the pages of books. Along the way I spent time with Dickens and Steinbeck, Edith Wharton, Jon Dos Passos, Whitman, Updike, Anna Quindlen, James Salter,  and on and on and on. My mind has traveled the sentences their minds created! And, along the way, I’ve hung out with Pip, and listened to Steinbeck’s Charley bark like crazy at the bears in a canyon out west. I spent time with Lincoln and his cabinet in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s, “Team of Rivals.”

Your refuge can be a rich resource of knowledge. I gobbled up Shelby three-volume, “Civil War: A Narrative,” a collection of work so extraordinary I almost believed I was living in the 1860s and nowhere else.

Taking healthy care of yourself is not an act of disloyalty to anyone else. Moreover, remembering to take care of yourself, a retreat into a loved sanctuary, a conversation with a friend, say, will make you far more effective when you turn your focus to the benefit of others. Something we all need to do in today’s climate.


It is no coincidence that the majority of Christmas cards I’ve had the pleasure to retrieve from my mailbox this year have the word peace on them. In many respects, the word, peace, is my favorite word in the language. Not for its sound, mind you. I think the word Tuckahoe may be one of my favorites when it comes to a word’s audio reality.

With my country at war on two fronts, it makes sense peace is on the minds of many, in and out of my country.

Peace, real peace, comes in many forms. The human mind and body, relaxed and at ease. A society built on understanding and acceptance rather than judgment and harsh discipline. There is the peace that comes with the alleviation of hunger and suffering. There is the spiritual peace one feels when experiencing a sunrise or sunset. There is the peace one feels when holding hands with a loved one. There is something gentle and exquisite about hand holding. While I don’t think I’ve been as good at it as I would like to be, the wonder of it is not lost on me.

Then too there is something Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” It dawned on me, when I read that sentence of King’s, that there cannot be peace where there is injustice.

There is also the cautionary note sounded by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay Self Reliance. “A political victory, a rise in rents, the recovery of your sick, or return of your absent friend, or some other quite external event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” While I am not sure that I entirely agree with him, I do agree that no one but you can bring you peace. It is in how you respond to and relate with the events in life, not so much the events themselves. Okay, maybe I do agree with Mr. Emerson. More thought required here.

I know that for me and quite a few others I know, this has been a brutal year. I have had been stabbed in the back by a nice array of slimy types, one or two so steeped in their own arrogance they don’t think I know it’s them that did the deed, and still others so oblivious to the fact their fellow human beings have feelings they are, I sadly suspect, beyond repair or redemption. Thankfully the repair and redemption parts are not for me to determine. Do I forgive them? Yes, of course I do. But do not for a moment think that forgiving them means I do not think they should be held accountable. They should be and they will be. Remember what King said about the presence of justice.

When I talked quite some time ago to Brother Gregory, a wonderful friend of mine, about my anger and hurt at being betrayed by some I trusted, he instantly right-sized me by saying, “Peter, people betrayed Jesus. What makes you think they won’t betray you?”

This has been a rather wandering and poorly written piece, and for that I apologize. I can attribute it to my still fighting off a fever but I think that would be a tad disingenuous on my part.

Here is what I can say, to all of you, including those that done me wrong,who read this blog. I do hope the day comes when peace, true peace, is your constant companion.