Safe Spaces

A note to startI have written and rewritten this post over the past several months. At first I had intended it to be pretty lighthearted, then the weekend I was going to write it up there was a school shooting, and I didn’t even have words. Then there was another shooting, and another, and another. Sometimes they happened right when I was going to put up this or a different post, so I waited a week. Every time they have happened, they take the words out of my mouth and I am left speechless. And yet, I return, not because I think this will solve all our problems, but because Max gives me hope and makes my life better, and I think we need more of that. At least I need more of that.

Last year, I got Max a dog bed. Before that, way back when it was just the two of us, he had been allowed to lay on the couch, then I married and moved and we got a new couch and Max got kicked off. It’s not because we didn’t love him anymore, it’s just that he treated the previous couch pretty rough.

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We also got rid of a comfy chair that was basically only for him, because we didn’t have room. That was over a year before I got the dog bed, so it was a little overdue, but Max is resourceful and makes do with whatever he has.

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When I got the dog bed I was worried he wouldn’t like it. But that worry was soon eased when he began spending a lot of time on his bed.

He does still like my kneeling cushion, and random hallways, and probably the couch when no one is home, but at least he’s using his own cushion too.

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In fact, his cushion has become a sort of safe space for him. He is able to look out to the front yard and still be close to us. But even more than that, his cushion provides some safety from the vacuum cleaner.

I vacuum about once a week (because of Max’s hair, just to give credit where it’s due), and almost every time, when I come to the living room, I find Max perched on his cushion. I don’t think he is super scared of the vacuum, but he definitely does not like it. And he stays there as long as he can. The cushion seems to provide the safe space he needs to make it through vacuum day.

It is trivial – the vacuum poses no real danger to him – but thankfully it is the worst danger he has to face. We’ve been lucky to be able to provide an overall safe space for him.

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But Max has taught me the real importance of creating and maintaining safe spaces. In a world of uncertainty, fear, and danger, whether that comes from vacuums or something far more sinister, we all need some space where we are protected and where we know we belong.

This lesson has only been heightened by the recent events of shootings in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas, not to mention the many, many others that have also already tragically happened this year.

We need safe spaces, not just because of the violent acts that continue to take place, but especially because of them.

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In light of this need, Max has taught me that safe spaces are created, they don’t just emerge out of thin air. He could go find a secluded corner, but that is not the same. A safe space is a place where there has been intentional work done to set it apart and make it comfortable and protective. And so, safe spaces take time to establish, just as trust in anyone or anything takes some time.

Max has taught me that it is up to those of us who do feel safe to create those safe spaces for those who are more vulnerable. I do not expect Max to create his own safety in circumstances outside his control.

And Max has taught me that safe spaces are fundamentally different from unsafe spaces. His dog bed is a unique place just for him that does not negatively effect others or contribute to unsettling peace anywhere else. It seems weird to say it like that, but I am very aware that many examples of creating “safe” spaces around the world involve making other places unsafe. But unsettling others to protect us is in no way creating safety, rather it is just reciprocating or redirecting the fear and danger.

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And then, when I see Max sprawled out in the middle of the hallway far from his bed, I realize that he is also teaching me that we shouldn’t need safe spaces, because our world should be safe for everyone. There is no excuse for us maintaining a world in which safe spaces would be needed, because there is no excuse for us perpetuating a world in which there is danger or violence or any tools that could contribute to such states. Max should know that he is safe in my house at anytime. He should know he is safe when we walk or travel or do anything.

Max has taught me that it is such an important part of life to be yourself, which can only happen if we feel secure from threats. He has taught me that by now we should have created a world in which that is a possibility for all.

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But until something actually changes, Max has taught me we do need safe spaces.

So thank you Max, for teaching me the importance of offering safe spaces to those in dangerous circumstances. Thank you for reminding me of my role in intentionally creating and maintaining such spaces, and working toward a world in which they are not needed. I hope you always feel safe here.

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Change

Max and I just moved to a new apartment. It has been a stressful process, but also an exciting one. And I learned that in many ways, Max does not deal well with change.

Max’s uneasiness was amplified because the moving process drug out over a couple of weeks. I slowly packed things up until there was one tiny maze through my apartment to get anywhere. Max could tell something was going on but he didn’t know what.

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I could see the anticipation turn quickly into anxiety as Max continued to live in an unresolved state. He did not know what was happening and was not getting any answers.

Max taught me that my own stress was centered in trying to live in that unresolved state. I wanted to move and get everything situated so that I could get on with things, but since my life couldn’t pause for that transition, I had to plow ahead bit by bit and deal with the piles of boxes.

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Max’s uncertainty persisted even when we finally made the move over. When I came back home from work the first day in the new place, he stuck to me like glue for most of the evening. The poor guy just couldn’t figure it all out and was trapped in a state of uncertainty and unfamiliarity.

But eventually he calmed down and he taught me several very important things about dealing with change and uncertainty.

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First, Max taught me that it is normal to feel uncomfortable with change. The stress and worry are natural because even the little changes can make a big impact. However, he also taught me that I need not stay in a perpetual state of stress. Change is exciting and can bring growth when it is encountered in certain ways.

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So, Max also taught me that the best way to move past the stress and worry is to find solace by seeking comfort in a friend. Max depended on my presence much more than normal to assure himself that things were going to be all right.

This lesson struck me because I think I often seek solace in trying to cling to whatever familiarity I had before a change. The times I’ve moved I have looked back from where I came and tried to be comforted by those memories rather than depending on a loved one to help me be more comfortable in the place I am now. But Max has taught me that the best way to deal with change is to face the unfamiliar head on accompanied by a friend on whom you can depend.

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FInally, Max taught me again to look at new opportunities as adventures to be explored. I know I have a heart set on adventure and exploration, as does Max, but we both were a little timid that first day after the move. It is scary going into a new place and being the stranger. But after the first day here, we decided to embrace the unknown with an attitude ready to learn more about it rather than fear it.

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While Max taught me that it is normal to be worried by change, he also taught me how to deal with it in a more hopeful and meaningful way.

So thank you Max for making this move with me and for teaching me how to deal with change. Thank you for being my companion and helping relieve some of my stress. And thank you for already embarking on an exciting new adventure with me.