Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Safety first?

A lot has been said lately about “Safe Spaces.” Apparently these are areas where a person can go if she/he feels threatened, or offended or abused and find a place to be comfortable. Someone will give you hot chocolate, or maybe a stuffed animal or a fuzzy blanket. Soothing music may be playing and you can sit, or lie down and just languish in peace and comfort until you once again feel safe and ready to face the next time you need the safe space.

These spaces are designed to be angst free, either racially, politically, gender based, or any cultural or social atmosphere you may find frightening.

You can find them in schools and work places, I’ve heard, so if someone bumps you in the hall and doesn’t immediately say “excuse me” you can run to the safe space and resign your hurt feelings. Or if you fail a test or the teacher asks a hard question, you can vacate to the safe space to regain your composure and be away from the hostile atmosphere. Even if you see a flag that “offends” you, you can retire to the safe space and be away from all things you find negative.

Every one has his own safe space, real or imaginary. They are not a new phenomenon but in the past they weren’t so passive/aggressive. When I was in primary school I walked to my Grandmother’s house for lunch (the ultimate safe space). This was back in the “olden days” and we were allowed a real lunch HOUR so most of the “town kids” went home for lunch, and maybe some of the teachers, too. I was a bus kid, but Grandma fixed my lunch in the fall and spring, as a way to get to see me more often (or so I’d like to think). Winters, I carried a sack lunch. This was really far back, because school hot lunch had not yet been invented.

Anyway, she lived four blocks over from the school and on each block every house was a safe space. I, and all the other kids who walked that route, knew someone was watching, so if we skinned a knee, got chased by a dog, or stung by a bee, there was someplace we could go for help. We also knew that if we dawdled, played in the mud or the big kids teased us, someone would be there to bring order to the fray. Along with the succor available was the knowledge they were also watching for us to be trustworthy kids and live up to our responsibilities, such as they were in first grade. Our safe spaces came with the understanding they worked both ways: we were protected, but also challenged.

I didn’t know I needed a safe space during my teen years. I was usually too busy to be offended and we lived in a small town where everyone knew everyone so being threatened didn’t happen because most of us had a big brother or lots of cousins to glare at anyone who might dare try to be an annoying presence. Hence, I made it to adulthood not realizing I’d missed out on anything.

When I most needed a safe space, raising four kids barely five years apart in age, I couldn’t find one except for the bathtub after the rug-rats were in bed. That lasted until Daughter was old enough to know that Mom’s safe space was also hers (she has 3 brothers) and we spent my relaxation time with her perched on the toilet seat discussing the various anxieties of middle school life. Safe spaces are where you make them, and you could find you are someone else’s savior.

Another safe space during my many lives was the teachers’ lounge, where we could go and take a deep breath. Being offended in a building full of teenagers was simply in a day’s work, so unless it was actually a major distraction little attention was paid to finding a comfortable spot in which to decompress. No one could expect to find total agreement all the time about politics and sports in the teachers’ lounge, but most certainly could find empathy for the need to vent. We did have hot chocolate, if we made it ourselves, and of course the ubiquitous coffee pot.

So, I’m not sure what the hoopla is about safe spaces. All of us have used one at times, but to expect an anxiety-free life is unrealistic and to expect immediate sympathy for every perceived offense is preposterous and it’s even more ridiculous to think you can float through life in a safe space without being expected to assume a little responsibility for your own well-being.

These days I find my safe space at the Senior Center. Lots of like minded people, and if you aren’t offended by being reminded at every step you are no longer 25 years old, it’s a good place to be. Not exactly angst-free, but lots of coffee.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at vewalters@gci.net.

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