Monday, November 12, 2012

SANCTUARY

When Bill finished studying at the University of North Carolina, he had to apply for a job. His dissertation supervisor had him applying to places where the supervisor had friends: Bowling Green University, Wellesley College, York University are some I remember. I wanted to come back north, so Bill also applied to universities in New England: Boston University, University of New Hampshire, Holy Cross College, University of Maine.. One day he said, “I wonder if they have a university in New Brunswick.” I had known from the time I met him that New Brunswick was a place that fired his imagination even though he had never been there. We had planned to go there on our honeymoon, but Uncle Sam intervened, and he had to go into the Air Force two days after our wedding. I hadn’t known of its existence until he told me about it.

He looked up Canadian universities in back of our dictionary, and sure enough there was a University of New Brunswick. He wrote away and right back came an answer, Yes indeed, they would love to have him--they hadn’t had an eighteenth century man for eight years. We drove up to Fredericton for an interview just before Christmas 1964. I immediately fell in love with the place. While he was at the university, I took Ernie and Grace for a walk down Queen Street. An elderly woman stopped, peered into the stroller, and said, “That child isn’t dressed warmly enough.” Wow: a place where strangers cared about your children--perfect. The architecture, the river, the size—and something about the feel of it, the soul of it--appealed to me. Even though Fredericton was only an hour from the Maine border, we had to drive many miles through wilderness after we left Bangor, so Fredericton seemed also like a very different place, exotic, and yet close enough to our families.

The decision had to be mine, Bill said. My mother wanted us to choose a Massachusetts university. I knew that Bill longed for UNB. It was an impossible decision, between my beloved mother and my beloved husband.  At last I decided we should go to New Brunswick, “just for a lark.” We would stay only a couple of years. That seemed like a good compromise. Would we have stayed only a short time if my mother hadn’t died three years after we came? I don’t know.

When we moved to Fredericton, we lived in a small two-bedroom apartment because we could find nothing bigger. We reluctantly decided to have a house built, the smallest one we could get a mortgage for, 1000 square feet. We had no money and of course didn’t think we would stay in Fredericton. I was worried that we had made a rash decision. We moved into the house the second of September 1966, set up the beds, put the kids to sleep, and, exhausted, I went out onto the front steps. What greeted me was a display of greenish yellow Northern Lights, the first I had ever seen. Ours was only the second house on the street, and there were no streetlights so that it was perfectly dark except for the amazing Aurora Borealis. The Presence was all around me; I was filled with it. Yes, I thought, we have made the right decision.

You can live somewhere for decades and still in your heart it’s no more than an encampment, a place for the night, detached from collective destiny. Across the world today millions are bivouacked, dreaming of return. The inverse is also true: Home can sink its roots in little time, as if in a revelation. Roger Cohen, “Modern Odysseys”, NYTimes, July, 29, 2010

Fredericton was indeed a revelation. It was as if God had designed a place perfectly suited to Nancy Luke Bauer. The Jews believe that the Shekinah, the divine Presence, hovered over them everywhere in the world they went after their exile. The word was derived from the word for dwelling. In Fredericton, the Shekinah hovered over me and my family.

Three of my favorite novels are the Damerosehay trilogy by Elizabeth Goudge. In the first novel, the grandmother creates a refuge for her children and her orphaned grandchild.

They could come to it weary and sickened and go away made new. They should find peace there, and beauty, and the cleansing of their sins.” Elizabeth Goudge, The Bird in the Tree

1 comment:

Dr Satori said...

It's enjoyable reading your blog.