The Illusion of Safety

While driving to the hospital from my little space in the woods last spring, there were many days I would see billowing smoke from the previous nights fires, evidence of the deep embodied pain triggered by the death of George Floyd. The flames of course, were not about one death, but rather from over 200 years of injustice for some and over 200 years of blindness by others. 

Buildings had burned and kept burning, pain existed and kept existing. Each morning was filled with the dread of the blocked roads, bags of garbage strewn across the street, boarded up hospital windows, National Guard leaving as I was arriving. Like a patient points to where on their body the pain resides, each plume of black smoke seemed to point down to a place of pain in the city. The illusion of safety had been set down into the middle of a war zone. The neighborhood would never look the same. 

Guilt sat in my passenger seat as I drove away each night, heading west to the quiet town in the country, winding down the safe little dirt road to my tree covered home. Colleagues and family lived in the middle of all the chaos; they didn’t get to “go home to get away” from it all. They were there 24/7. Guilt and I were commuting partners for weeks.

I imagine we all have places we’ve considered safety zones in life. For some it has been our home, neighborhood or a faith community; for others, school classrooms, a familiar shopping mall or an outdoor trail. We have considered our government buildings and our Capital safe. Over the years (and as recently as a few weeks) we have experienced the illusion we hold of safety. 

Until yesterday, I was unaware I considered my healthcare clinic to be one of those safe places. Important? Yes, after all, it housed the practice of the OB that delivered my now-adult child, the family medicine physicians who have tended to us for decades, who helped carry me through cancer, the acupuncturist that helped relieve my spouse’s shoulder pain, the lab techs who magically and carefully secured blood from my impossibly slippery veins; this building housed all of those people. I had assumed it was safe. It is where we go when we are at our most vulnerable. And yesterday it became a dangerous and deadly place through the actions of one person.

I work in healthcare, so I am aware of the threats that healthcare workers receive. I don’t think there is anyone on my team who hasn’t gotten a death threat or had to duck a swinging patient. It is part of the landscape of our work. We work with people who are receiving perhaps the worst news of their lives and reactions are often unpredictable. 

But yesterday, there was a shift for me; a deepened knowing of the complexity and vulnerability of life. My work certainly has complexity and vulnerability in front of my eyes daily. Yet it was from this deeper shift that I could step back from a large amount of pain and noticed while I was contemplating the tragedy that took place at the health clinic in my small town of Buffalo, and as I was wondering who died and who were injured and where I should go to get my tetanus shot (as if that even matters at the moment, and yet these are the kind of thoughts that leave their messy footprints all over your mind), something else happened. 

At the same time my brain is trying to navigate these questions, I find myself watching the bright red cardinals at the feeder, and the industrious squirrels digging into the latitude of buried acorns. And I feel a touch of calm. Regardless of the tears and pain, I notice a mystic ingredient of healing in my morning pancakes and in the purr of the cat encircled at my elbow. 

While being on a meditation cushion may help on some days, today it is in the simplicity of dogs barking, and sweet bits of chocolate after a meal which have the intention and power to bring me to my center. It is in the joke my colleague tells that sends my eyes rolling back into my head and a groan escape my lips, it is the bruise on my leg from the danged coffee table, the tenderness of the small wound on my ear from the constant rubbing of mask ear loops, and the sight of my tax pile waiting for my attention…it is all of these things, the simple, every day moments of life which have the potential to bring me back to this present moment if I pay attention. 

It is in the small and normal occurrences I find a place where I can breathe. As I acknowledge and appreciate all of them, I find they are a balance to the pain, a healing balm to the terror of the clinic shootings, virus variants and knees on necks. 

These are the moments in life when…if I pay attention to them and love them, they mend my soul and lead me to a breathing space and guide me to the next moment.

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