As a kid growing up in New York City, I was blessed to have safe spaces that offered me emotional and spiritual havens from the tumult of the city streets and my parents’ marriage. The church building, located just a few blocks from my apartment and now the Manhattan temple, was the most important of those spaces. Some of my earliest memories of church involve watching Homefront television spots in the Visitors’ Center (now clothing rental, I think?). In high school, I joined newspaper delivery men and street sweepers in trolling the pre-dawn streets as I made my way to early morning seminary, held in classrooms that are now the celestial room. I can’t go into that building’s chapel (still the 3rd floor chapel) even today without feeling a profound sense of coming home.
Music provided a virtual safe space, often as real and meaningful to me as a physical building. As a 15-year-old, I cried as I watched the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Gotterdammerung, the final opera in Wagner’s Norse mythology series, thinking about the twilight of the gods and the end of the world. Such beauty connected me to God in a way that nothing else did, so who cared if I was teased about my love of opera at school? Music was a haven, a place of rejuvenation and healing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about safe spaces this week, physical and virtual ones. Safe spaces are those retreats that offer a vision of our very best selves and the world around us. It’s been a tiring week for many of us, one in which many members of the Church have felt broken or weary or confused or just plain sad. I’ve had a perpetual headache, and I can only imagine how much Kate Kelly needs a massage. Have we each found moments recently to remind ourselves of our own divine natures? The world’s potential for beauty? The love and loyalty in those around us?
As I get farther and farther away from my youth and more embroiled in the middle age tasks of raising children, running a house and keeping a job, I find opportunities to visit those safe spaces—either literally or metaphorically—to be rare. My current ward house in suburban Utah doesn’t conjure up those same devotions as my childhood chapel. Where would I find time to sit through five hours of Gotterdammerung today? I have discovered that part of the allure of social media is that I can escape, for just a few minutes, to a zoned out mental state as I scan friends’ Instagram photos of their cute kids or wacky articles courtesy of Facebook. It feels like a quick respite from the responsibilities, the heaviness of the here and now. I don’t have time to feel deeply, to revel in safety and beauty these days; a quick fix is all I can afford.
Except that for many of us social media hasn’t been a quick fix over the past few weeks. It hasn’t felt like a safe place, a place that can remove us from our burdens and remind us of what is beautiful and funny and meaningful in the world. It’s been a dark place at times, a place where we’ve found all of the human frailties that the Savior warned us about. It felt at times like a petri dish experiment gone wrong, where all of elements resulted in a jumbled up mess of germs instead of some gorgeous crystal. We invoked the Savior’s universal love for all people, decrying the severing of a soul from the community, but sometimes failed to embrace the person on the other end of the Enter key.
A universal safe space is the scriptures, a place I have valued more and more as I get older. Scripture reading seems so practical, such an expedient way to take us to a place of emotional and spiritual safety. I’ve read the following passage several times over the past couple of weeks as I’ve been tweeted that I’m unfit for my job or Facebook messaged that I should be ashamed of my viewpoints:
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
There’s a reason we’re encourage to go to the temple often too: it’s intended to be a universal safe space. But we have our private spaces too, those unique places or triggers that take us to our best selves. It might be a hike in the mountains for one, yoga for another, a visit to a favorite Degas at a local museum, the repeated watching of a favorite movie or a favorite reading spot. Whatever it is, now would be a good time for each of us to indulge in some dedicated time in that safe space.
I indulged last night: I attended the final concert of an international piano competition that has been going on here in Salt Lake City for the past several weeks. On the program were concertos played by the three finalists: the Rachmaninoff Third piano concerto, the Prokofiev Third piano concerto, and the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. Those may not mean a thing to you, but for me, they offered a renewed vision of all that is good and divine and miraculous about the world. The Rach 3 was a favorite of my deceased dad; his spirit was close. I felt the headache melt away, my shoulders relax, my concentration redirected to the magnitude of genius and discipline in what I was hearing. I was reminded of my smallness, my humanity, my humility, my God. It wasn’t Gotterdammerung, and I still checked Instagram before bed, but for the first time in weeks, I felt safe.