I pushed on the red wooden door, and it pivoted forward heavily on its hinges. I stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind me as quietly as I could. I stood blinking in the darkness, and it took me a little while to see that I was standing in a kind of foyer decorated in dark wood paneling. I pressed against another door to my right, and it swung into the cavernous room with a creak. I took a few more tentative steps, my shoes squeaking slightly on the polished stone floor.
I sidestepped into the last row and knelt down, the old wood complaining under my weight. I’d just come in from the blinding light of the plaza, and as my eyes adjusted the room slowly expanded in all directions. For the first time I saw I wasn’t alone. A handful of other people were kneeling in a few of the farther pews.
The cathedral was a stark contrast to the streets outside.
I’d woken up early my first morning in La Paz, my sheets too scratchy and the bed too hard to turn over and fall back asleep. I’d dressed quickly, had a quick breakfast in the lobby of the hotel, and stepped out into the morning sunshine. It seemed as though I’d been the last to wake. The streets were already full of people. Men in their suits and on their cell phones. Teenagers in school uniforms with backpacks slung over one shoulder. Mothers with sunglasses tipped back on their heads, holding a coffee in one hand and tightly gripping their child’s shoulder with the other. Old women bent over under the weight of huge bags of potatoes and fabric. And everyone running every which way, everyone in a hurry.
I stepped into the swarm and began exploring. I wandered up streets and down alleys, and since La Paz is built into the hills of the Andes, I walked up and down a lot of hills. The city seemed chaotic with cars and people. Black exhaust poured into the morning sun on every street. Cars at a standstill honked needlessly at one another like a pack of geese.
I came into a sunny plaza full of hundreds of pigeons making a cacophony of cooing as they fought over the seed being spread by a mother and her three little ones. The storefronts along the edge of the plaza rattled noisily as they rolled up their metal gates. And the traffic that swung around the circle revved and honked at random.
And then I spotted the cathedral on the far side of the plaza. I felt like it was calling me.
A few moments later, as I knelt there in the the back, I could still hear the honking and the occasional motorcycle roaring by, but it was all muffled. The chaos felt a million miles away. The massive room was quiet enough that I found myself a little self-conscious over the sound of my own breathing, hoping I wasn’t disturbing anyone. In the quiet I could even hear the sounds of the paintbrush a workman was using to revarnish the woodwork along the base of a nearby wall.
I looked up and realized that the room wasn’t really dark at all. Light streamed in through the round windows high up in the arches, and the stained glass windows were lit up in every imaginable color.
In the quiet and in that multicolored light I realized that I’d been running. The last week had been spent in the city of Oruro capturing a story so that we could share it with people back home. Our small team and I had spent day after day running here and there, hunting down locations, hurrying to catch the sunrise or the sunset, and ticking off our to-do list. And I hadn’t had a chance to sit and soak it all in. In the course of the week we’d done so much. We’d shared laughter and tears. We’d seen hope. And we’d heard heartbreaking stories.
And like the world outside that cathedral it was noisy and blinding and choking and beautiful and alive. But to really take it in I’d needed to step inside a sanctuary. I’d needed a little quiet. I’d needed a place where I could contemplate, and cry, and break it all down, and put myself back together again. Part of me wanted to stay there, take up residence in that quiet place. But outside the world was still spinning around in that plaza, and I was destined to join it again. As I stepped out into the sunshine again I felt fresh, and free, and ready again, not nearly as weary as when I’d first entered. Back when I didn’t even know I was weary.
My home. My life. Our world. It all seems a little chaotic right now. Some of us are right in the middle of it. We’re running. We’re hurrying up hills and down dark alleys. We’re fighting good fights, and sometimes we’re just fighting. We’re laughing and crying and shaking our heads and shouting. And that’s life. And we’re doing all we can.
But sometimes we just need quiet. Sometimes we have to seek out a sanctuary. Sometimes we need to let our eyes adjust and let our breathing be heard and let the beating of our hearts slow down while the world spins as wild as it wants.
And we’ll step out into the sunshine again, to be sure. We can’t live in the sanctuary forever because, frankly, we’re called into the chaos. But for our own good, for goodness sake, before we let chaos consume us, look for a sanctuary.