A Few Good Moms: Sanctuary During Chaos

When tragedy strikes, mom experiences an overwhelming urge to gather her family in her arms, shutter the windows, and double lock the doors.
When tragedy strikes, mom experiences an overwhelming urge to gather her family in her arms, shutter the windows, and double lock the doors. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The cell phone footage reveals two horrifying deaths that replay on a relentless loop on cable TV. Then comes further violence with heartbreaking news of police officers targeted and murdered in Dallas. Once again France suffers unspeakable tragedy. The mom feels an overwhelming urge to gather her family in her arms, shutter the windows, and double lock the doors.

You want the truth about creating meaningful sanctuary during chaotic times? I think you can handle it.

My son was bitten by a spider over the Memorial Day weekend and was prescribed antibiotics to address the swelling and discoloration around his ankle. But by Thursday morning his leg looked worse, and as he got ready for the last day of school I texted a picture of it to my physician husband at work. Given that my default mom-mode is typically “over-anxious,” I assumed that everything was probably okay.

Yeah, obviously I thought that; why else would I start the trek to school in worn out workout gear, un-showered with a naked face? I certainly didn’t anticipate the communication from my husband that an infectious disease doctor would be contacting me imminently to discuss evaluating my son – most likely at the ER.

A couple of hours later, we were at the hospital. I’d had just enough time to wash my hair in the kitchen sink – so I wouldn’t miss the important incoming call – and to put on a respectable dress instead of my ill-fitting tank top and yoga pants. While with my son in the ER I kept things light. I was sympathetic but calm as they inserted the needle for the IV drugs required. I exuded confidence that all was going to be just fine.

But then things took an unexpected turn. As we waited to be admitted and transported to a room, I became aware of a message coming across the loudspeaker that sounded like some kind of code. Which wasn’t that alarming really; we were in a hospital ER. But then I focused on the words, and heard: Security alert. Armed subject. Parking deck. Escape immediate danger. Shelter in place . . .

I glanced at my son and could tell he wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t hear feet pounding or shouts outside in the hallway. Maybe I misheard the announcement. But as we were being wheeled out to go to our room, we heard it again, and the nurses pulled us back into the ER. “Just to be safe until this is resolved. It’s better to stay on the side of the doors that lock instead of traveling through the hallway.”

This story does not have an unhappy ending. Whatever the problem was didn’t even warrant a mention on the news or even any scoop from the search on my phone as we waited in our little holding room. Eventually we made it to our regular hospital room without incident. But for a couple of hours, while the announcement continued to broadcast, I grappled with the possibility that something truly alarming was unfolding. Given the world today it did not seem all that farfetched.

Later I thought about the phrase “shelter in place,” the directive I’d heard that generally means to secure safe space inside from a threat outside. The practical application could be lifesaving, but could the metaphorical one be life limiting? I thought about the instinct to protect your own when faced with danger. How my mind had raced with alarm when I thought about anything hurting my son. I felt how easy it was to focus inward, frightened and closed off, against all of the bad “out there” in the world.

That response, while understandable, is also problematic. Especially during these most unsettling times, it seems more important than ever to reach out into the suffering world and link hands with those directly impacted by horrible events. Because sheltering in place only seals us off with our own debilitating fears, and the truth is, that solution ultimately offers no real refuge at all.

Want to get a better handle on creating meaningful sanctuary during chaotic times? Read about an inspiring circle of shelter that unfolded in the midst of the tragedy in Dallas, watch the mom who refused to turn a blind eye to suffering, and let Dionne Warwick remind us of what the world always needs.

Bess Kercher explores the reality of motherhood in her blog "A Few Good Moms...Can You Handle the Truth?" Bess lives in Charlotte with her husband and two sons. You can read more of her writing at