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Monitor Board of Contributors: When the going gets rough, where do you go?

Mel Graykin shot on November 17, 2010. She is a new Board of Contributors columnist.
(John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

Mel Graykin shot on November 17, 2010. She is a new Board of Contributors columnist. (John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

Sanctuary. We all need it sometimes. When the stress and conflicts of daily life get to be too much, there’s a place we go to find refuge.

For some of us, it’s as simple as the kitchen, the cozy familiarity mixed with the comfort of food. Make a cup of tea and sit down at the kitchen table with a cookbook, searching for a new recipe to try. Even experimenting, you are still on known terrain. All the pots, bowls and utensils are old friends. Maybe that faithful mixer was given to you as a wedding gift, and still works great after all these years. Maybe the potholders were hand-made by little hands, the kind of crudely crafted gift like the pottery ash tray (even though you don’t smoke) or the plaster hand impression that you cannot part with.

Or you take comfort in something you need no recipe for, you’ve done it so many times. Chocolate chip cookies or chicken soup, yeast bread or apple pie, something that fills up the kitchen with delicious smells. Open the oven door, lift the pot lid, inhale deeply, and all’s right with the world.

Could be that all that baking is a means to an end. It gives you an excuse to invite yourself over to a friend’s house, because gee, you just made a batch of brownies or a blueberry crumble, and you need help eating it. There’s your sanctuary: The kitchen or living room of a dear friend who will make coffee (or pour a glass of wine) and you can talk and share and laugh.

Maybe you don’t cook. But still, there’s a place in the house that you go when you can’t cope (or just don’t want to). Some people have an office or alcove where they can hide with a book or behind stacks of books. Rustling papers or tickety-ticking on the keyboard, you mustn’t be disturbed because you are “working.” Maybe you are and maybe you aren’t, doesn’t matter.

Then there is the workshop in the basement or garage. There’s a project you are working on. Something needs fixing. Maybe it’s just time to organize your tools – to clean them, sharpen them, whatever it is they require. Nobody knows what you’re doing as you bang and rattle around. Maybe they shake their heads and mutter about what they know you are probably doing.

So what. It’s your space and it’s your time, and you can get completely immersed in something concrete, tinkering with things that you can understand, as opposed to the nebulous, incomprehensible forces in the world outside that are baffling and intimidating. This, what you are working on with your hands and skills, makes sense.

Or you go to your bedroom and shut the door. Sometimes you slam the door, depending on the situation. This is your sanctuary, where you can read your book or play your games or watch your videos or message your friends and rant about the injustices you must deal with. This is where your things are. Wrap yourself in a quilt or put on that old ratty sweatshirt and hide.

But if you can’t escape to your bedroom, you can at least escape to the bathroom. They can’t follow you in there when you’ve firmly closed the door. It can be the refuge of last resort.

Or perhaps first choice, if you’re the old-fashioned sort who fills the tub with steaming hot water scented with rose or lavender and perhaps even brimming with bubbles. Soak and primp and pamper yourself.

Or just sit on the throne and scowl, an exiled sovereign.

Some quit the house altogether, seeking the woods, the mountains, the seashore, the park or just wandering the city streets in stress-free anonymity. Some get on a bicycle or motorcycle, or hop in the car and drive somewhere, anywhere – the music cranked up as loud as they can stand.

In this era of the internet, there are countless virtual hiding places where you can escape from the world. Your body, inconveniently left behind as your mind wanders the webs, still needs to be in a safe place away from interruptions. If your home doesn’t provide one, there is always the local coffee shop (provided they have wi-fi) or even a quiet corner of your public library. They’ve got books there, too. Lots of them.

And books are, perhaps, the best sanctuary of all.

(Justine “Mel” Graykin lives and writes in Deerfield and practices freelance philosophy on her website at

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