When a man finds no peace within himself it is useless to seek it elsewhere.
- L. A. Rouchefoliocauld
St. Patrick’s Cathedral made me feel small today – small and peaceful. After 2 hours of driving and then walking the crowded Saturday streets of Manhattan, walking into St. Patrick’s with my mom was like being consumed by peace.
Though I wouldn’t count myself as religious, it was a spiritual experience.
A couple hours later, in the Reading Room of the New York Public Library, I experienced the same sensation.
As we left, my mom explained she couldn’t help but contemplate the thousands, if not millions, of people who’d occupied both buildings before us. In either case, they were there looking for something.
She mentioned the disheveled man sitting on a bench in the library attempting to sew his hat back together while the outside world buzzed by. I thought of the patrons I’d watched waiting in line to have their necessary books retrieved. They sought piece of mind.
In St. Patrick’s, the scene had been similar, people seated and kneeling, queued up to ask for answers. They sought peace of mind.
Both of these cathedrals offered sanctuary. Visitors to both could seek or simply sit without their outside lives barging in.
I want my classroom to be a sanctuary.
Beyond the discussion of safety, sanctuaries offer something more. They offer a pause.
If everything in their social, familial and academic lives is clamoring for their engagement, my classroom should provide a silence that rises above the din and stresses disengagement.
Controlled chaos can be beautiful. A boisterous class discussion can amaze the mind. I attempt to orchestrate these moments in class as often as possible.
What are missing are moments of stillness. Uncomfortable as they may be, if they can experience them physically, then maybe my students will allow themselves to experience them internally as well.
That’s the larger goal – helping my students to find comfort and sanctuary in the quiet spaces of who they are.