Wise Words – Our True Shelter Is in Our Relationships

“Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine

It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”

Irish proverb


Ah, the Irish. They have a wondrous way of shifting the light with a few simple words. I first heard this proverb from Pádraig Ó Tuama, Irish poet, theologian, and host of the brilliant podcast Poetry Unbound. Above are Padriag’s versions in both English and Irish Gaelic. 

I’m struck by three powerful spots in this short verse. The first is the word, ‘shelter.’ We think of a shelter as a place that protects us from the elements, both outer and inner. It is a refuge, a place of safety where we can relax and recharge. Shelter brings to mind feelings of home, the place where we can tend to all of life’s joys and sorrows. In times of joy, we’re enlivened and want to share our good fortune. In sorrow, we’re exhausted and need support in grieving our losses.

The second is the phrase, ‘each other.’ This place of shelter rests in our relationships. We feel safe and protected in the company of friends and family. We can relax our vigilance against the hurts outside. These words describe a relationship that is intimate and reciprocal. I am not only being sheltered, I am providing shelter as part of an exchange of giving and receiving. A healing bond forms when there is a mutual offering and sacrifice of our individual selves that sustains and renews both people. 

Third is the word ‘live.’ The shelter of our relationships nourishes what we care about most. We are more than biological units needing food and air. To live means to seek the things we hope for: health, security, a loving family, fulfillment, exercise of our gifts and talents, being of service and, ultimately, love. It is our loving connection to others that creates the soil that allows the rest to grow.

There are many things in life we can only do alone, but there are also things we can only do together. To flourish, our individual lives need to be connected with others. At one level, we must love and feel genuine compassion for ourselves, and yet, we can only be fully seen and mirrored from the outside. Deep connection with another lets us feel an acceptance for who we are that we can never fully give ourselves. We need to be seen by others to get it in our bones. And that creates the shelter in which we all can live. 

How is your shelter doing? Take an inventory of your relationships and ask yourself where they seem strong. Who is your shelter, the people with whom you feel safe and accepted, folks you can talk with about things that matter? How are you a shelter for them? Where do your relationships need nourishing or even repair? Do you need to seek out new ones?

Perhaps Padraig sums it up best when he quotes another Irish phrase: “giorraíonn beirt bothar.” Or in English, “two shorten the road.” 

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

2 Replies to “Wise Words – Our True Shelter Is in Our Relationships”

  1. Beautiful and true reflections. We are in Sweden and arrived to find that our daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Einar, had made our apt here into such a welcoming and warm home for us. All their care and work embraced us as we walked in the door. They even brought a portable crib over so our grandson can learn to nap here. The love surrounds us.

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