Sanctuary: Loss and Life

In a recent conversation, we recalled that over 32 years of life together, we have moved house 6 times.  Moving house means moving a lot of “stuff,” and by itself that is just exhaustingly difficult.  But it’s more than that.  Moving involves detaching oneself from people, places, and patterns of living that, largely unconsciously, have been sustaining us. These connections become a silent, unseen sanctuary for us that anchor our lives and allow us to launch from every day into the exploration of who we are and what we are doing in the world.  Until we move.  When we move, the disconnect can feel almost as if someone has cut off our oxygen supply.  The confusion, sense of being lost and utter loneliness that sets in, even if for a little while, can be devastating, so devastating that among the most stressful things we can encounter, moving is often listed as second only to a death in the family.

Loss like this, of people, place and patterns comes with its grief and the due process of our souls.  My own experience is that some new adventure emerges from such moves.  All but one of our moves were chosen and planned for.  The one that was foisted upon us probably felt like the most devastating and yet thus far in our lives, it has yielded the greatest set of promises–new people, new place, new patterns, and in the silent and unseen places of our lives, new sanctuary.

In her poem “The Blackwater Woods”, Mary Oliver brings the dynamic of losing and building life anew like this:

Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Letting go of one’s sanctuary can be so painful, and yet, it must be done at times.  When we let go, we will find that the pieces of our next and new sanctuary are already beginning to assemble themselves around us for the building–new life out of our loss.

Bob Patrick

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