“The protective walls of a family are not made of stone, but of love.” Mary Pipher, The Shelter of Each Other
Those walls, I think, include the whole human family, the strangers and loved ones who show up to shelter us when we need it most.
We all understand shelters to be temporary, a place to collect body and soul until we can secure better circumstances. The word comes from the Middle English words, “scield” and “truma,” meaning shield and troops. The notion is of a compact group of soldiers holding up interlocking shields encircling the one in danger.
This fall we’ve had our collective share of natural and unnatural disasters: hurricanes, earthquakes, mass shootings, wildfires. The recent firestorms of Northern California burned close to home. My family’s lives and homes stayed safe, but that wasn’t true for many friends and neighbors. Firemen’s hands were the first line of shelter, banging on door after door in the predawn hours, often pulling dazed, frightened people towards safety through walls of smoke.
Nearly everyone in the fire areas needed shelter or offered shelter. The needing and the offerings are ongoing, for all survivors of fire storms and other calamities-- and will be, for a long time to come.
Large-scale disasters make headlines, but personal traumas require shelter too. When hearts are shattered, we need emotional shelter. During a low point long ago, a friend drove four hours to buy me a pizza and listen to me wail. The pizza is long gone, but the kindness lives on; the smell of pepperoni and extra garlic is still a scent of hope. Emotional shelter can’t fix us; it only attempts to shield us as we struggle to our feet.
During my sons' high school years, they and their friends found their “port in a storm”-- in a fort in the orchard. Through summer mornings, fall afternoons, Christmas-lit nights and spring evenings, they hammered together their idea of shelter, drenched in happiness and sweat.
The fort attracted others as well, young women, drawn like moths to a lantern, tromped through the orchard, bringing art supplies and ideas. I like to think they were seeking more than my construction crew; that they were also drawn to the chance to create and to find shelter from their own storms.
I hope that every single person, who came through these walls felt protected and safe within. They were, I believe, safe-ish, as safe as teens in this world can be, which is to say--not very. Of course I tiptoed down in the dark, more than once; I may as well confess right now. But the rules are different for parents of teens. The fort wasn’t far from home, a literal stones-throw, if you were a budding baseball pitcher, but the orchard canopy made it feel a world away. It wasn’t church camp there--I can attest to that, but somehow this temple of plywood and Christmas lights felt like holy ground.
Each summer the fort evolved as new builders and artists emerged, then disappeared, sailing off to their worlds of college and work. But for one bright era, the fort consumed their free time and imagination. It sheltered them--and they sheltered each other; from loneliness, boredom, stress and the critical, anxious eyes of parents like me.
Wherever we find shelter, however we offer it--a roof to share, a pizza to deliver, a gloved hand reaching through the smoke--I believe there’s a stronger hand beneath our own, helping us hold up the shield. And the old tree fort? This morning, when I peeped inside, I startled two feral kittens sheltered inside, sleeping in a pool of sunlight. Shelter on, human family. And, of course, the song below was playing in my head as I pondered this post all week.
Bob Seger, "Against the Wind": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0Tsnqa8uaQ
Welcome to Streamriffs.com, a place for fellow creek- walkers and nature lovers. Lori Fisher Peelen lives in California with her family.