Safe Place

I want to be the sanctuary.

I want to be Rivendell, where wanderers heal. I want to be Narnia, where everything sad comes untrue.

I want to be the riverside, where you study war no more. I want to be the mirror, where you see yourself beloved.

I am a human woman, and my latitude and longitude lean and long unwisely.

I’m drawn to cats because their needs can be met and their comfort is within my power. The nonprofit I serve is a sanctuary—the word hallows our very name—and when I write marketing materials, I press myself into the pages like a leaf: “a haven of hope,” “ community of love,” “a kingdom of kindness.”

The stubborn saviors of costly cats from four continents, we take pride in taking the unlovely, the scrambled eggs and battered beatitude adjusters. Paraplegic cats and livid cats and fetid cats and fearful cats, quaking continents of fearful cats, are our cats. We are defiant in our devotion to precisely these.

I default to Gospel language and trust that nearly nobody knows.

My boss, a savvy Jewish Buddhist libertarian contrarian, who slings his doctorate over his shoulder like a plastic bag, knows. He doesn’t say as much, but when I erupt helplessly into “last become first and first become last,” or “happy are the poor in spirit”— he knows.

But I know, and the imperious cats know, that I am only spackling my craters. I long to fill the impact zones with light.

I forget that I am a prism and make myself heavy as mercury, burned by the sun that would shine through me if I didn’t make it all about me.

But what am I if not the house of healing, the breathless barrage of reassurances that reupholster broken egos? This is, after all, what I do best. I see splendor under muddy overalls and rose gardens under scowling stratus clouds. I tell the trustworthy and the treacherous that they are holy. I am hasty and wordy, pasting promises I can’t keep.

I put God on the spot. I do it daily.

I tell myself I’m driven to deliver the sacred trust I was given. When I was born, the good fairy whispered, “she will be unconditionally loved,” and paired my parents, poetic and playful. I have been delighted in and declared the light of the world. I have been reassured and resurrected by forgiveness.

I have never been comfortable with my lavish lot in life.

I have tried to plant every empty lot with Eden.

It makes me manic and madcap, a validation hummingbird frantic for drooping flowers. Post-It notes remind me who needs texting and who needs handwritten notes, when I last salved my sad people and where the hurting hordes hide.

I want to believe I am the moon reflecting the sun. I want to love people back to the Lover. I want to evict my ego from the whole enterprise.

Being the safe place makes me feel safe.

It makes me reckless and needy, word salad for people who need bread. I overestimate the power of my prose, admire my comfort cottage like a cathedral.

Gargoyles get uncomfortable:
“Nobody has ever encouraged me the way you do.”
“You don’t know me well enough to say all that.”
“I want to believe all that is true.”
“You say too many nice things about me.”

If nice things could knit a sweater of safety in the world, I would say them anyway. But nice things are a nice way to feel like an angel when you, too, are a gargoyle. Nice things, given a gilded vocabulary and a hummingbird heart, can spin cotton-candy comfort that lasts half an hour.

I want everyone to feel safe with me, because this is my own nest in the world.

I don’t mean to say that my exuberance is all excess, my encouragement a mere ego heist. I genuinely love my people, and I have been gifted or challenged with a heart that quickly counts people as “my people.”

I see the shiny marble in the swamp and the divine in dirty denim. I do not write people off. I write down hints of glory in the margins and print them on the front page.

I am a safe place for all kinds of cats.

I am also a woman in motion, one stone in the sanctuary, a pilgrim missing home.

Perhaps I make an impact, my rags of reassurance stitched into coats of sturdy colors.

But the craters will be filled by a light more lavish than mine. The nest will be large enough for every battered bird.

And every little latitude will belong at last. Even mine.

As Development Director at Tabby’s Place, Angela Townsend bears witness to mercy for all beings. Angie has an M.Div. from Princeton Seminary and a B.A. from Vassar College. She has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 32 years, talks to her mother every morning, and delights in cats and the moon.