A Place of Refuge
Rachel Naomi Remen

  
Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us.  Not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal.  The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are.  We are all hungry for this other silence.  It is hard to find.  In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life.  Silence is a place of great power and healing.  Silence is God's lap.

Many things grow the silence in us, among them simply growing older.

We may then become more a refuge than a rescuer, a witness to the process of life and the wisdom of acceptance.

A highly skilled AIDS doctor once told me that she keeps a picture of her grandmother in her home and sits before it for a few minutes every day before she leaves for work.  Her grandmother was an Italian-born woman who held her family close.  Her wisdom was of the earth.  Once when Louisa was very small, her kitten was killed in an accident.  It was her first experience of death and she had been devastated.  Her parents had encouraged her not to be sad, telling her that the kitten was in heaven now with God.  Despite these assurances, she had not been comforted.  She had prayed to God, asking Him to give her kitten back.  But God did not respond.

In her anguish she had turned to her grandmother and asked, "Why?"  Her grandmother had not told her that her kitten was in heaven as so many of the other adults had.  Instead, she had simply held her and reminded her of the time when her grandfather had died.  She, too, had prayed to God, but God had not brought Grandpa back.  She did not know why.  Louisa had turned into the soft warmth of her grandmother's shoulder then and sobbed.  When finally she was able to look up, she saw that her grandmother was crying, too.

Although her grandmother could not answer her question, a great loneliness had gone and she felt able to go on.  All the assurances that Peaches was in heaven had not given her this strength or peace.  "My grandmother was a lap, Rachel," she told me, "a place of refuge.  I know a great deal about AIDS, but what I really want to be for my patients is a lap.  A place from which they can face what they have to face and not be alone."

Taking refuge does not mean hiding from life.  It means finding a place of strength, the capacity to live the life we have been given with greater courage and sometimes even with gratitude.
    
  
      

This book itself is truly a blessing, a great collection of short essays on life, living, beauty, and the wonder of it all, from the perspective of a doctor who's seen so much of what it means to be human and to be happy.

  
  

There is a silence that matches our best possibilities when
we have learned to listen to others.  We can master the art
of being quiet in order to be able to hear clearly what others
are saying. . . . We need to cut off the garbled static of our
own preoccupations to give to people who want our quiet attention.

Eugene Kennedy

  
   

  

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