The spaces we live in become our sanctuaries


Marian Cuevas

Warm sunlight shining against the yellow and orange buildings across the street.

by Marian Cuevas, Staff Writer

The first time one of my friends visited my first (and only) dorm room, she said that everything on my side of the room made it feel very welcoming and cozy. “It feels like a home,” she said. I hadn’t thought about any of that when I decorated, but I saw that she was right. I had taken my half of that double room and turned it into a small sanctuary for myself—a place to meditate, to rest, and to learn.

When I moved into my freshman dorm, my parents and a close friend helped me put everything in place and decorate. I put some fake flowers on a vase on top of the bookshelf, draped a handmade Mexican duvet on my bed, and put up the flower painting one of my best friends got me as a going away gift. I used a hair tie to attach a small Mexican flag to one of the arms of the wooden cactus my mom gave me and put it next to my books. A ceramic cactus-shaped night light stood in front of those. We taped the string of flower lights to the bottom of the bookshelf that loomed over my bed, which was decorated with two IKEA pillows and a small stuffed bee that my mom got me.

I slept with my head towards the window. With the room’s layout, I could pick between that or having my feet to the window—but I always liked the natural light seeping in through the window in the morning, right at the bottom where the broken roller shade wouldn’t reach. If I woke up early enough to catch the early rising sun, I could see its warm light shining against the yellow and orange buildings across the street. I lived on the sixth floor, which gave me a nice look over the colorful four-story buildings.

Walking to school early, I was met with morning dew and crows hopping along the street. The SoCal breeze on my skin, early enough to find quiet along our main streets as I headed over to school. Those quiet strolls in the morning gave me a lot of time to think. In busier weeks, I would think about my assignments, and all of the deadlines coming up–but during the calmer weeks, when I felt like I had things under control, I had time to think about my new life and what it meant for me. I would walk home every night just after the sun had set and look at the moon and stars. Even in the middle of winter, the night sky made me feel warm—they made the habitual walk back feel like a home in itself.

I had never paid much attention to any of that until I moved away from home for university. I realized that whichever place you move into becomes your home, even if just for a season. My surroundings became more vivid. The space I found upon opening my eyes each morning, the morning path to school, and the room I came home to after a long day out all appeared to breathe a life of their own. Home was everywhere and nowhere, as anywhere I looked was void of memories and full of potential, every person I met a stranger and a friend in one.

Only time would tell whether any of these spaces would become a lasting home, or whether any of those hearts would foster a lasting friendship. More often than not, the spaces were only temporary sanctuaries, and I would fall out of touch with those friendships by the end of the term. That didn’t make it any less worthwhile—I came to truly understand how time changes everything, including ourselves. As uncomfortable as times of change can be, I had to find a way to love the constant change and the impermanence of my new life.

The constant newness of everything as I moved to a different building once again and created bonds with different faces also made me wonder about our own resistance to the changes of time—I learned that it hurts a lot more when time comes to change you than when you learn to change in and with time. It’s the difference between being shoved ahead by the waves of time and finding a way to ride along. For me, the way to ride along had to do with making a temporary home of wherever I went, and with learning to spend time on myself—because if there is one thing alone that I have learned is that the time you spend on yourself is the time you will remember most, and in your life you will spend more time with yourself than with anybody else. I suppose changing in and with time is really just the journey of learning to enjoy your own company, and learning how to adapt to a changing world around you.

In the end, whether it was that freshman dorm, the two apartments I lived in during my sophomore year, or the apartment I found and kept as I went through the last few years at school, what mattered most was making myself a home where I could learn to enjoy my own company. Sometimes that looked like my warmly decorated half of the room, and sometimes it looked like an apartment full of trinkets and memories. Sometimes the people I had welcomed into my home would not be around to see the next space I called a home—but, soon enough, that impermanence became the beauty of it, as the continuously changing spaces that we find ourselves calling home teach us that, ultimately, home can be almost wherever you want it to be.