But just as often, that which appears safe, isn't really all that safe anyway.
The world is in fact a very dangerous place, more so for some than for others. Because of this, discernment and a fervent commitment to purpose are key. The last thing we need is an overweening thirst for safety.
Now, I am not talking about the safety that we seek from common sense, because we want to live to serve another day. I am talking about bad safety, the safety that puts you to sleep, that makes you lazy, the safety that makes you too comfy to see the wolf crouching behind the door. The safety you seek because you are afraid to live.
This is the kind of safety we are tempted to seek when our lives have been thrown into chaos, such as by cancer, or a shocking childhood, or an exceedingly bad marriage.
If we're more fortunate, it's the safety we snuggle into when life is better than we have a right to expect, and we have become lazy out of habit. Shame on us for that.
Now, for many of my students, danger unfolds right under their noses as a matter of course. I am talking about real danger, the kind that can cost you your life in the middle of the night when the rest of us are sleeping. And yet, wherever they see strength, my students, especially when that strength professes love, they seek shelter there with a childlike faith. Sometimes they can't tell the good safety from the bad any more; other times they simply have no choice but to sit in it, because they are children. And they get burned, and they never knew what hit them. They see the wound, and they don't know how they got it.
What's our excuse?
In my real life, it has become about praying for their souls and minds all the while I am high-school-English-teacher-ing the dickens out of them. This is partly because my judgment in my own life has not always been a whole lot better than theirs, and I know where things could head for them.
Safe haven is not where it's at. It's about asking a few hard questions: What needs doing in this world? What needs building? What outrageous thing needs correcting? What are we driven to do about it?
Not all of us, but some of us, look for love in all the wrong places, desperately seeking safety at any cost; or just as wasteful, we find a good safe thing and hitch our wagon to it, and park.
That's not what we were made to do. We were made to burn. We were made to shine. We were made to be a conduit for the love of Someone bigger than ourselves, to leave the world better than we found it. We were not made to hide, not in an alley, not in a gang, not in a dysfunctional relationship, not in a drug. Not even, for the lucky ones, in the bosom of our safe little home, even if it really is pretty safe by comparison.
If we were blessed to find human love in this world, we were meant to use it as fuel, not as a drug. We are the creation of Another, not our own, and it's time to start living that way.
I feel like sharing a chapter from my novel Corners today, one in which the misbegotten Shelley is again looking for love in decidedly unsafe places, all because she is desperate to feel safe. In this chapter, you can see the stupid coming; you can see the wreck before it ever happens. These are the lessons we learn, when we choose to learn them the hard way. Such is life. Mistakes, we make. But then we get up, and we forgive, including ourselves, and do it for the right reasons the next time.
Because at the end of the day, if we don't do the good work we were put here to do, all because we were busy groveling our way to safety, then we haven't done what we came to do. And that, good friend, would be a terrible waste.
The store was empty except for me and Bruno one December Saturday night, with lights already turned out everywhere but the kitchen, the loft, and the night lights in the front window. It was starting to get cold, and you could almost see your breath in front of your face even inside the store now that the heat was off for the day. I was hurrying to finish up for closing, lost in thought over my work, picking out recipes for the next day so I could grab the freshest ingredients early before the customers came in. Bruno and I had been bantering back and forth all day, him “meep meep” -ing around the deli like my shadow; and me noticing his antics more than he realized, tracking his every movement with my eyes, smiling my Mona Lisa smile whenever he noticed me noticing him.
I knew exactly what he meant. My 21st birthday had been in October, and even though he and I never talked about Graham, he knew that my heart still ached from something back then, from whatever that thing was that had been hovering over me when he and I shared the bottle of Chianti months ago, the thing I couldn’t tell him about. And he had waited for my eyes to clear and my heart to lighten all this time. He had known just the right moment, to the day and hour, when it was time, not a moment too soon, or too late.