Sanctuary

We sat beside one another on a winter’s night, happy and snug, but quiet. Not still, for there was just enough activity in our suburban little apartment. Steam gently rose from our glass cups, the sweet scent of just-made Rooibos tea almost touching our faces. Three candles stood tall, adding to the room’s soft light from a metallic candleholder on the dinner table by which we sat. Four other candles lit the rest of the room; two on the coffee table, two by the corner table underneath the wall-mounted television, which softly played chillout lounge music. A small, white lantern hung from the curtain rail, holding within a tealight for those outside to see – an homage to a former president of our homeland, and a symbol of connection.

The Danes have a word for this warm, intimate, and serene moment; hygge. The nearest English equivalent is probably ‘cozy’, but it sounds odd when one tries to stretch its meaning enough to cover hygge‘s expanse. The Irish word, suaimhneas, might come in at a debatable second place, as a poetic term to describe peace and rest, but it doesn’t bear the same warmth. With my own native tongues failing me, maybe I should look north to find the right word.

Hygge may well describe that cozy peace, but it doesn’t encompass the relief I felt that night. Suaimhneas does, though. Like that moment after you’ve let out a massive sigh, knowing that you’ve come home after a hard day’s work, or after a badly-needed break-up, or cut out something that had been a burden on your life’s energy. It was that feeling of being done with the hardship of that past, whether that past was ten seconds ago or ten years ago. It was that feeling of returning to yourself, after being made to do, be, or say something that, until now, was just not you.

I look up from my barely legible scribbling. Our eyes meet. I smile. He gets up to fetch something for what he’s working on, and kisses me softly on my forehead. I feel safe. Protected from the cold. Loved. Here was our sanctuary; where time stood still and all was well. It was the home away from home, a refuge that reflected who we were in every photo, fridge magnet, framed poster and filled bookshelf.

It was, at its purest, a moment at home.

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