First, there was a mention of Vincent’s* upcoming birthday. (Vincent always has some kind of medical emergency on or around his birthday.) Next, there was the way we said, “Finally, a quiet weekend at home. A normal, peaceful Saturday.”
You see where this is going, right?
We were awakened by the L’Arche emergency line on Saturday morning. Vincent had stroke-like symptoms, and an ambulance took him to the hospital.
It turns out that Vincent didn’t have a stroke (thank God), but that he needs further tests to determine what’s happening. And I took the experience as a ‘further test’ in celebrating what is.
Since I couldn’t just ‘do nothing’, I offered to take Cassandra with me on an outing to a mutual friend’s house. Cassandra loves to go out, but there aren’t always enough assistants available to cater to this desire (particularly in crisis situations.) So my husband stayed at L’Arche, and Cassandra and I hit the road.
However, my mind and heart were not at peace. I was ‘doing the right thing’, but my spirit was resentful. Couldn’t we have just one Saturday to ourselves? I thought. Doesn’t it matter what we want and need?
Gripe, gripe, gripe. Even Cassandra’s smile did little to lift my mood. I was deep in a self-pity funk.
I explained all this to my friends as we sat sipping tea. My friend Aileen said, “Yeah. I know what that’s like. You think to yourself, ‘If I just get past this one thing, if I just make it through this one day, then I’ll have peace. Then I can relax.’ But sooner or later, you realize that the externals don’t matter, because peace is an inside job. If your peace doesn’t extend past your circumstances, it’s not worth much. It’s not real peace. And at some point, you have to go for the real thing. ”
My mouth was hanging open. It was one of those moments where truth comes up and (lovingly) smacks you in the face.
Aileen knows what she’s talking about. She had an unexpected corneal ulcer a few weeks back…which conveniently had her running to the ER just before a major praxis exam (she’s a teacher.) She wasn’t giving me platitudes about peace beyond circumstance. She knew about it, firsthand.
There’s more than one way to tap into this peace. From my experience that day, here are a few suggestions:
1. Think about a time when it seemed that nothing was going right, but you felt a sense of serenity anyway. Perhaps it was a time when you got sick and found value in your fever, or a time when you were faced with a challenge but saw an opportunity within the obstacle. Think about why you felt serenity. Did it have to do with letting go of your fear? My lack of serenity last weekend was fear-based. I was afraid for Vincent, afraid of losing him. I was masking that fear with irritation. Once I realized I was afraid, I let myself…
2. Get quiet, and take a look at what you’re choosing now. Are you choosing to be a victim of circumstance, or are you choosing to make the best of it? It’s about attitude, and only you have the power to choose your attitude. Right then, I realized I had a choice. I could choose to celebrate the afternoon with Cassandra, or I could choose to view it as a burden. I chose celebration, and selected another piece of chocolate. As we talked and laughed, I took a moment to…
3. Think about that classic Uncle Ben line from Spiderman: With great power comes great responsibility. I have the power to work and live near people I love. With that power comes a responsibility to them, a concern for their well-being. It’s not always ‘convenient’, but it is always worthwhile.
This responsibility is about accepting that real love costs you something. It isn’t about beating yourself up and thinking, “Why can’t I get my act together and be more mature? I should be over this by now…” (I’d been taking that road all morning, and it wasn’t working. The soul doesn’t respond well to ‘should.’) On the contrary, it’s about learning to…
4. Offer yourself compassion. Offer the fearful parts of yourself the compassion you’d offer to a friend who needed help. If you’re feeling lost and scared, you don’t need a command to ‘do better or else’. You need compassion. As Anne Lamott wrote in Plan B, “Your sick, worried mind can’t heal your sick, worried mind.” That’s where the heart steps in.
Case in point — my favorite thing to recite to myself before high-school track meets was this: “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
A rabbi named Yeshua said that to his followers, right before he was crucified. Right as he had everything to fear, he promised peace. He spoke not about controlling the “sick, worried mind”, but about quieting the heart.
Those words didn’t make my legs stop shaking before I ran, but they did help me believe that I could clear the hurdles.
I’ll leave you with these beautiful lines from Jennifer Gresham’s poem, “Dilated“:
…We’ve had it all backwards: Heaven is ablaze with the fires that forged us, Hell the dark curtain that keeps us from seeing it.