”Shelter-in-place” feels heavy right now. It’s only been a handful of days, and we’ve weeks to go.
When I first heard the term, I imagined myself caught unawares in a thunderstorm, needing to duck into a nearby doorway until the storm passed. This directive told me to go home and stay put, something I haven’t done in a long time.
As you may know, these last few years have been chaotic and nomadic, traveling weeks and months on end. Even now that I’m more “settled,” I’ve been working long office days each week and traveling most weekends. I never think about things like stockpiling toilet paper or canned soup. Being on-the-go is an exhausting habit to break.
Last Saturday night, I decided it was time to get some groceries in the house. Imagine the barren landscape I found as I wandered into a local grocery at 8pm. By now you’ve seen pictures of empty shelves and produce displays, but this was my first glimpse. I wanted to cook a pot roast as a welcome dinner for my son. I couldn’t find enough food for any recipe.
My son goes to college in St. Louis, but while he was away on Spring Break, his university told him to go find shelter somewhere else. He flew to LAX last Sunday afternoon to shelter at my place for the foreseeable future.
“I have bacon, some potatoes and a loaf of bread,” I told him, as he climbed into the car. “That’s all I could find.”
Together, we visited a few more stores and added to our odd collection of food. He took over the cooking, a relief to both of us, and we’ve now had a week of forced—but welcome—reconnection. He flew away from home immediately following his High School graduation and our mother-son time since has only been on vacation. I’ve relocated to a new city and his childhood home no longer exists. Now, we share a bathroom and we’re experiencing the same strange reality as everyone else. We’re home college-ing and home office-ing, in this new city, where neither of us has any friends to go see, even if we could gather in groups.
“Shelter” feels like an old world word. It’s right there with “refuge” and “fortress.” Maybe it’s my childhood filled with the King James Version Bible, but the word feels vintage, and therefore, serious and meaningful. We don’t say, Where will you shelter on your upcoming trip to Hawaii? But if I asked, Do you have shelter?, we’d know we’re talking about dire circumstances. Shelter is a sobering word.
Many years ago, two friends who don’t know each other simultaneously introduced me to my now-favorite musician, Ray LaMontagne. He’s swoony, romantic, and has the most awesomely weird voice you’ll ever come to love. I’m playing him a lot these days and his song, Shelter, keeps coming on:
All of this around us will fall over
I tell you what we’re gonna do
Hey, you will shelter me, my love
And I, I will shelter you
If you shelter me too
I will shelter you
I drove past boarded-up restaurants yesterday on my ongoing search for toilet paper. Crude spray painted boards covered windows, shouting, “Closed ‘til further notice!” I wonder what Ray had in mind when he wrote all of this around us will fall over. Is this it? Has everything fallen? His intimate picture of mutual sheltering sticks with me, though, and serves up a longing for connection. You will shelter me, my love. And I, I will shelter you.
Yesterday, I held a Zoom gathering for clients interested in seeing the latest cabi clothes. The call was sweet and lasted less than 20 minutes. After blowing kisses to the camera and signing off, I got a notification someone was waiting for me again on the call. I logged back on to find Martha, a client I don’t see very often. She’s caring for her 98-year-old mother, so you can imagine the worry she holds right now. A few minutes later another gal logged on. These women were 45 minutes late to see the clothing presentation and, you know, clothes never came up! I introduced them to each other and listened as they compared stories of elderly parents, closet clean-outs and life in quarantine. They kept their cameras off, so they were disembodied voices speaking to each other in the darkness. That created its own kind of intimacy for us. We chatted for at least 30 minutes, I showed them around my apartment, and I have to believe it was as bright a spot in each of their days as it was in mine. For those 30 minutes we were in place, safer together.
Last December, I had one week to find an apartment in Southern California. I spent each day pretending to know what to do in my first corporate job in 22 years. I raced out at 4:30pm to make it to one or two apartment viewings before building managers went home for the day. After viewing the smallest and saddest places, I sobbed my way up the hill to the warm, inviting, and decorated-for-the-holidays home of the CEO of cabi, who’d very graciously welcomed me to stay with her as I sorted myself out. I’d spend a few hours being as close to the perfect houseguest as I could manage (while asking for the wifi password), and fall into bed with my laptop to try and find more apartments to view. I’ll be forever grateful for that bedroom by the garage; it was the perfect shelter for me during that stormy week of change.
On the fourth night of that week, I searched in a different neighborhood and walked right into my new home. I knew immediately it was mine. After the dismal options I’d seen, this place felt like home, and it’s my shelter now—and the shelter for my son.
I’ve never faced difficulty alone. Even though I moved to this new city to live on my own, people helped me. Rachel drove my car down from San Francisco, loaded to the brim with what wouldn’t fit in my U-Haul. Emma arranged my kitchen. Louis built the IKEA table and chairs. Karla tagged my new cabi Collection and Melissa arrived when boxes still reached the ceiling. She moved stuff around while I worked each day, then cajoled me into unpacking more boxes each night. When we would discover a need—a lamp here, an end table there—she’d find options for me by the next night when I returned from work. During that difficult, exhausting, and transitional time, the fierce love of so many sheltered me and softened the upheaval, stress, and sense of loss moving can bring.
My friend Stacee shared this blessing with me during our recent Lenten meditation:
Bless the House of the Heart
If you could see
the way this blessing
has inscribed itself on every wall of your heart,
writing its shining line across every doorway,
tracing the edge of every window and table and hall –
if you could see this,
you would never question where home is
or whether it has a welcome for you.
This blessing wishes to give you a glimpse.
It will not tell you it has been waiting.
It will not tell you it has been keeping watch.
It would not want you to know just how long it has been holding this quiet vigil for you.
It simply wants you to see what it sees,
wants you to know what it knows—
how this blessing already blazes in you, illuminating every corner
of your broken and beautiful heart.
—Jan Richardson from The Cure for Sorrow
In this piece, my heart is the home, I know. As I read it, though, I couldn’t stop my eyes from watering, looking around my new home. Seeing my grandmother’s dining room table, pictures of my kids when they were little, a brand-new couch Melissa helped me find. I look out the window to the neighborhood I discovered during such a stressful time: palm trees tower over the beach as a sea breeze blows in. This is mine. This is my shelter.
I’m grateful for this life and what I can offer my son. I’m also thankful for the sense of shelter I can share over the internet in connecting with others and experiencing this strange time together. I am stronger and better when I am connected to people. Beyond all that, I treasure the shelter I receive in the rooms of the hearts of my friends and family all the time. The refuge I find there, mutual sheltering offered and received.
I pray you find yourself sheltered these days, and someone joins you in a room of your own heart. Perhaps he or she will hold you safely while you rest easily for a while, sheltered from whatever life storm is brewing in addition to COVID-19. Social distancing doesn’t need to mean isolation; loneliness isn’t so good for anybody. Come close and get warm. I’m holding a quiet vigil for you.
Sheltered and Safer in place,
Long Beach Joy (+ Son)
PS How are you holding up? Leave a comment telling us what this time looks like for you.