Redefining Safety

May 11, 2024

"Does good even exist anymore?" Let the light of your face, YHWH, shine on us! You put joy in my heart-a joy greater than being full of bread and new wine.  In peace I'll lie down; In peace I will sleep: for you alone, YHWH, keep me perfectly safe." Psalm 4:5-8

"I'm not stuck, I am safe-I have many choices and options." Jeanny Zelaya (trauma therapist)

Before entering the women's trauma unit in mid-December, I did not know how or even if I could feel safe in my surroundings, emotions, and my body.  Whenever someone would say to me that they felt safe I would wonder if they were lying and they would look at me with surprise and pity.

I equated safety with not dying or ever getting hurt and since we all are going to die or get hurt and we don't know when, safety seemed completely unrealistic.  I thought about death a lot.  I believe that being able to think about death is a healthy thing but thinking about it constantly also proved to be quite limiting.  I was always fearful about how short my life might be or I was experiencing depression so deep that my head was filled with intrusive thoughts about death.

The women's outpatient trauma center at the Ridgeview Institute redefined safety for me and now I can claim that I am safe most days.  Safety is not about not experiencing danger or never dying-it is about recognizing that in most situations we have many choices and options; we are not stuck, but safe in our ability to find new ways of approaching a problem.  Not being safe means that you are in survival mode and that you have no or very few choices and options.  Palestinians are in survival mode right now, but I am not.  Even if I feel stuck, that feeling is a lie. I have many choices and options and I believe more people have choices and options available to them than they may think as long as their mind is open to new ways of thinking and of seeing the world.

Thinking of safety in this way heals me to my core. It also reminds me of process theology, which is the theology that resonates the most to me. Monica A Coleman's book, "Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology" completely changed my life. Here are some quotes from it that affirm my therapist's view of safety:

"There is a positive way of dealing with the disharmony and conflict in the world. We can focus on the new possibilities that are available to us rather than the influence of the past alone.

If [...] we change primarily according to the calling we experience from God, we can change the future of the world.

Peace is not ignoring the reality of the world, rather, it prevents us from seeing the world as narrowly we otherwise might.

Peace is the gift of God that allows us to trust in the process.

We can sift through the inputs of the past and the future possibilities and become our own thing.  We own that decision.  In that moment, we are that decision.

We can creatively transform the past to decide how we should move into the future.  We can also draw power from the lives of those who have come before us."

What I believe Coleman is saying is that often when we think we are only in survival mode that God (or the Universe) is showing us and opening more doors to possibilities if we will open our own narrow-ness and divisive-ness.  This is something that comforts me and makes sense to me.  I can feel safe knowing that I am not stuck, even if I am in physical danger, my mind does not have to be.  Or, as Bob Marley sings in his "Redemption Song,"

"Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but yourselves can free your mind

I would argue that freedom is found in a partnership with God, but I suspect that Bob Marley thought so too.  I find freedom in the phrase,

"I am not stuck, but safe-I have many choices and options."

Cat seems stuck by dog

Scully, my cat, not actually stuck

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