The Safe Summer Place

Growing up, there is one place that holds a memory of feeling utterly safe for me, and gave me the sense that everything is, was, and always will be right in this world.

This place was at our family summer cottage in Saint Albans, Vermont, a sleepy little town a short 90 minute drive from our home in suburban Montreal, and yet seemingly an entirely different universe from my daily childhood life.

Growing up in a tense household where I was constantly monitoring my father’s every move and mood, on high alert for danger, I did not feel a lot of safety. But there were many happy moments for me at this cottage, where in his relaxed state my father taught us how to fish and took us on boat rides, and where I could run and play with the neighbor’s kids all day and swim in the rain.

I had freedom here to roam and do as I pleased, without my parents worrying and restricting my movements like they did at home. Of course I would never be far, and there was a tranquil place where I often found refuge, which was on the little dock in front of our cottage. I loved the gentle lapping motion of the water underneath the dock, and would often lie down on it at night, and gaze up at the multitude of the stars, fantastically clear in this rural setting.

The vastness of the night sky assuaged me and filled me with wonder. This was the same sky that our relatives in North Korea, strangers to me, could see - the one thing we shared in common. I recall pondering this while I lay there, motionless, and trying to make sense of it all. I wondered if there was the possibility that far far away in the night sky, another little girl lay observing the same sky, imagining me doing the same. I was filled with peace and awe at the possibility.

Many decades later, while at a week-long meditation retreat, I had what I consider to be a mystical experience related to my safe place. We had been deep in meditation for hours with our eyes closed and, in addition, a mask over my eyes - when suddenly I felt I could see.

I was jarred because I thought I must have opened my eyes but when I touched my face, the mask was still over my eyes. And yet, I could see. Not the room I was in, but a vast and peaceful starry black sky that was infinite and unending. And then I suddenly recalled that safe place from my childhood, and was filled with the understanding that this was the Big Me answering the call of the Little Me, many decades later.

I believe that under those night stars, as a child, my heart’s calling for safety in what felt like a dangerous world went out like a beacon, and that the course of my life has been leading me down a circuitous path of healing, back to myself, with the understanding that we ultimately are, and always were, safe.

Wishing you a summer of refuge, rest and wonder.

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