Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Safe Enough to Imagine Safety

It’s something we’d like to forget, but the truth is, we imagine safety.

We imagine that we can keep our loved ones safe, and that we ourselves are kept safe by them.  We imagine that our sense of safety is more than a feeling—that it is something powerful, something worth something, something real.  And, the truth is, it isn’t.

Safety is something I’ve learned to imagine for myself, and while I treasure the power to do so, I know fairly clearly that the comfort I feel is a by-product of my imagination, and nothing more.  It doesn’t matter whether or not my locks are latched, what time it is, who else is in my home, or where I live.  What matters is that my imagination has learned how to believe in the possibility of safety, and with this education, my imagination not only allows me this sense of comfort, but actually helps me reinforce the sense that, for now [for ever?], I am safe.  Go ahead—plop me on a city street at 2 AM, on my couch at 4 AM, on a bus at 6 AM, or in a broken down car at any time at all.  Chances are, I’ll feel safe because—and this is key—I Know How to Feel Safe.  I have the Confidence to Feel Safe. Simply, I’ll repeat:  I’ve learned how to believe in the possibility of safety, and so I feel it.

I’m reminded of this tonight, when someone in my home feels unsafe.  Now, some of you might discount everything I say because you know that my beloved Arthur is a hounddog, an English Coonhound (mix?) to be exact.  He came to us from a shelter, which he came to after being homeless for one of the rainiest months (or longer) that I remember, and that state itself was a state he reached after some significant abuse at the hands of humans.  We know his history from stories and from scars and from reactions, and we know it is real.  We know, without a doubt, that any safety he ever felt was the by-product of those he lived with, and shattered with what came of that situation.  To put it simply, he’s mostly forgotten how to feel safe.

Now, I can imagine resolution.  I can imagine that, even if the unthinkable (of any nature) were to burst my world, I could then recover.  How?  Well, I grew up knowing safety.  I grew up in a world where I was never intentionally hurt or humiliated, and where no stranger ever injured my reality.  I grew up day-dreaming happy endings to horror stories.  I grew up believing that death was the closest thing to unsafety that I could ever know, because I learned at a very young age what death seemed to mean.  Thus, in my mind, as long as I could think, my own safety was real.  My only worry was the loss of others, but at the least, daydreaming was a mental refuge...a mental safety.  Even if only in my mind, I knew what safety felt like.

Tonight, watching our rescued pup pant and tremble and wish for safety, I’m reminded of the luxury of my imagination, and of its blessing.  Because while there may be people and spaces who make me feel especially safe, and other people and spaces that make me feel threatened, I am for the most part a creature who knows the comfort of safety.  I grew up believing that I could be safe.  I grew up knowing, falsely or not, that everything would be okay. 

I would give anything—even, probably, my own ability for safety (and, yes, I’ve come to believe that it is indeed an ability allowed by imagination)—to help my Arthur believe that everything will be okay.  But this isn’t a question of language.  Much as I’d like to be able to have a conversation with him, it wouldn’t matter.  What matters, really, is the fact that someone stole this part of his imagination.  Someone made him unsafe, someone showed him the falsity of believing in guaranteed safety, and someone wounded his imagination...and thus his health...without giving a second thought to why that was an evil.  Yes, Arthur is a hounddog.  He is a sweet, loving, handsome, scarred, and terrified hounddog, but watching him, I know that his fear is the same fear any creature—dog or human or otherwise—must feel when safety, or the possibility thereof, is stolen.

Now, I’m left to imagine safety for both of us.  I’m left to imagine that he can eventually come to imagine safety again.  I’m left to believe, however falsely, that safety is more than illusion, and that imaginatio is more than passtime.  I’m left to imagine that imagination can help us to remember how to feel safe, even when both imagination and safety have been stolen, even when imagination seems, unforgivably, unimaginable.