Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thoughts on Peace



I have been thinking about peace a lot lately. I suspect it's because I am always telling people that I am at peace, finally. And I mean it.

But what is peace, anyway?

For me, it is a term that has been ingrained in my brain since childhood. As a born and bred Catholic, peace is practically the cornerstone of my religion. We talk about peace a lot--it's mentioned and shared over and over again in weekly mass.

People are almost always wishing peace upon you--in fact, a portion of each mass is spent shaking the hands of those sitting around you while looking them in the eye and saying, "Peace be with you." Each mass ends with being told to go in peace. Like anything else, however, the true meaning behind that message is very easily lost with both time and routine.

But it has been on my mind a lot lately. What, exactly, are we wishing upon one another? What does peace feel like?

The more I thought, the more I came back to something that happened years ago when I was in college. I don't remember exactly when it was, but it has always stuck with me.

I took a Sociology course at my conservative, private (read: Catholic) University and we were given the opportunity to listen to a speaker one evening for extra credit. Not one to pass up an opportunity to boost my grade, I tredged across campus one night for the talk. The speaker was a former Major League Baseball player (whose name I cannot recall) who spoke to the group about his life, primarily his efforts to conceal the fact that he was homosexual for the majority of his career as a baseball player.

I remember being spellbound the entire time he spoke. He broke down midway through his talk, tears streaming down his grown man's face as he told of the shame and pain he felt all those years he tried to hide who he was from family, friends, and teammates.

The one thing that stuck with me all these years is this: the profound sense of peace that I felt in his presence. It wasn't something tangible; you could just feel how peaceful this man was. It literally radiated from him.

It has been at least eight years since that day, perhaps more, but I still remember that feeling of sitting in some ornate old library on campus, smiling knowingly at someone who was fully and completely at peace with his life. It's an infectious feeling.

So when I think about my own peace, I think of that man--whoever he is. I think peace comes in acceptance, in knowing who you are are and pursuing it wholeheartedly. Peace is chasing your dreams, no matter what they look like. Peace is putting everything else aside--the anger and bitterness you feel for the parts of your life you don't like--to search for your own personal acceptance, regardless of what that means for you.

It's very clear to us as human beings when someone else is truly at peace. It's easy for us to perceive that about others. Like that former MLB player, peace really does radiate from those who have found that feeling in their own lives. It's difficult to describe, but we know it when it we see it--and feel it. Likewise, we know how it feels when we encounter someone who has yet to find their peace. It feels like poison.

For me, peace is knowing that I have done all that I can do and there isn't a thing left for me to be other than myself. I like to think that I've paid my dues, worked through every last ugly feeling and came out a different person on the other side.

I realize I'm a better person for it--not a girl who was given something she didn't deserve. But really, peace is letting go of expectations, rules, and the things we thought would be ours before we understood that we couldn't control everything.

"Peace is not something you wish for; it's something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away." - Robert Fulghum

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