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My Sanctuary

Ugh. Another parking ticket. I think I already had about 10 of them. While I never intended to pay them I was still embarrassed to get ticket after ticket for parking in the women’s basketball coaches spot. She never seemed to use it anyway and the walk from the visitors lot was long. Plus, tickets were for rich kids.

I dropped the ticket on the ground and got back into my 1978 Ford LTD Station Wagon to begin the drive home.

It was the Winter of 1994 and I was spending a lot of time in Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Library. You might know the building as Touchdown Jesus but I know the building as my sanctuary.

My senior year of high school was complicated.

While I did my best to maintain a front that everything was OK, everything wasn’t OK.

After spending my junior year in Germany with my mom I moved in with my dad for my senior year.

My hope was to move home and resume my life. My reality was that I’d exchanged one chaotic situation with my mom for an even more chaotic situation with my dad. While his marriage to my stepmom wouldn’t end for a couple more years the volcano of their relationship erupted over and over again. It was pretty rough. I moved in, then we moved out, then we moved back in– on and on this went. I think I moved in and out of that house 7 times in 10 months.

When we were home I tried to avoid being there as much as possible. And when we lived with grandma I tried to stay out until after she went to bed. I spent as much time as I could at school. But eventually the janitors would ask me to leave and I’d have to go somewhere else.

Hesburgh Library was on my way home from school. It was both a logical and welcoming place for me to hang out. While I wasn’t a student no one ever asked me if I belonged. As long as I was quiet, doing homework, and didn’t break rules I knew no one would complain. I was good at blending in, knew enough about Notre Dame to fake it if I got into a conversation, and knew they weren’t going to put me in Leprechaun Jail if I got caught.

So I’d disappear for hours into the stacks to read, research, dream, nap, and explore.

To graduate I needed to pass gym. So I had little homework. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t learning. I’d grab a novel off the shelf or dig into an autobiography of someone I’d never heard of. They’d refer to a piece of history I wasn’t familiar with so I’d head over to the microfilm and read the New York Times from those days to find out what the author was referring to. Anything to pass the time.

As the weeks went by I got lost in reading newspapers from the Great Depression. Over time I got pretty good at finding stuff and operating the microfilm… and then I started helping the librarian show students how to find what they were looking for. And that lead to even more time in the library “studying.” (This was a great way to meet female students, by the way.)

At a time in my life when I didn’t feel welcome at home– or really even have a home to feel welcome in– I felt welcome in the library. More than a place I trespassed at or occasionally got a parking ticket for squatting on the women’s basketball coaches parking spot, it was a sanctuary of comfort and predictability that I desperately needed.

Do you work with teenagers? Help them find their place of sanctuary. Don’t ever assume that because they look OK or aren’t saying they aren’t OK that everything is fine. Sometimes the best thing you can do isn’t talk… it’s help them find a place where they can just be.

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3 Responses to My Sanctuary

  1. Adam Jacobus June 22, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    From one Adam to another – thanks for sharing some most honest parts of your story.

  2. Jennifer June 22, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    My (when I taught high school) classroom was on the second floor of a separate building from most classrooms – very much off the beaten path. So, naturally, it became an island of refuge for a lot of students. Some of the most profound and ministerial moments I have ever been party to happened because I could provide a safe place for them to be themselves. It was SUCH a privilege to be the protector of that space.

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