(Article is by guest writer Brock Haussamen. For a brief bio, see below.)
From time to time over the last couple of years, I’ve said to myself, deliberately and slowly, “I’m safe.” This self-talk felt strange at first. I don’t believe I’m plagued by any immediate dangers that I’ve been trying to talk myself out of. I’m in my late 70s, in pretty good health, vaccinated, enjoying retirement. But I’ve found that saying “I’m safe” brings a warm feeling of well-being the likes of which I can’t recall. It resembles the centeredness and peace of a meditative moment but with a surge, a flood of wholeness, self-assurance and good cheer.
I think my new mantra has emerged, in part at least, from a convergence of examples of safety or the lack of it that I hear about and deal with. Covid-19 has spawned a new, grim parting: “Stay safe.” And here at the Jersey shore, the slow, steady rise of the ocean shows itself in frequent nuisance flooding. We ordered a whole-house generator. And when our new grandson visits, it’s all hands on deck for his safety, as we make sure he doesn’t fall down stairs, run into a table corner, burn in the sun.
And I’m now a CASA, a “court-appointed special advocate” for children removed from their parents because of abuse or neglect. CASAs try to bring consistency into the life of a child who has had little of it. CASAs talk to birth parents, foster parents, social workers, teachers, and medical staff so they can write updates and recommendations for the family court judge. The goal for the child is, in the words of the New Jersey department, “protection and permanency.” The theme of safety runs throughout the program; parents may insist they love their child, but love doesn’t get through to a child who is scared and not safe at home.
Here’s a very different example of safe that I came across recently. In the game of baseball, you throw out a base runner by throwing the ball to, say, the first baseman. But if you were playing in certain 18th and 19th century versions of the game, you threw out a base runner by throwing the ball at the runner. If you hit him, he was out. Otherwise he got on base and was––literally––safe.
Since its earliest roots and from the 13th century in English, safe has conveyed the sense of not only “free from danger” but also of being “whole, intact, healthy.” English speakers have said “safe and sound” in the vernacular of their day since the 1300s. Secure, a limited synonym for safe, comes from the Latin for “without care, without danger.” Safe, in contrast, signifies not only the absence of danger but also the presence of well-being and even of being protected, redeemed, saved.
Still, safe remains a word that carries its opposites on its back. For living things—people, other animals, plants—are never far from scarcity, danger, deterioration. Safe, you might say, promises more than it can deliver.
I bask in its glow anyway.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.
- Online Etymological Dictionary, “Safe,” etymonline.com
- Wikipedia, “Origins of Baseball”
Bio: Brock Haussamen taught English at Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey until retiring in 2006. He has followed and written for the Spiritual Natural Society for many years. His blog, 3.8 Billion Years: Lives and Life, explores the history of living things and the consolations that it offers. It remains available at 38by.blog.