Someone recently asked the question: Where have you experienced the most peace? Is it now a memory that has become your "happy" place?
My response is a contradiction. When we think of the word peace we think of the glassy, undisturbed surface of a body of water, or the stillness of the morning at the break of dawn. We think of times of silence, worship, prayer. We think of meditation, sleep, rest or even death.
Yet the most expansive peace I ever felt happened like this:
It was my first trip to the outer banks. I brought Emily with me to celebrate my graduation from college. We rented a shabby but cozy motel room in Nags Head, conveniently situated on the ocean side. After unpacking our bags and eating a snack, we drove to 7 Eleven for a bundle of firewood and stopped at the fire station for a permit. Back on the beach after sunset and before our campfire, I became unexpectedly swept up in euphoria. The energy of the waves charged the atmosphere with invigorating, hair-raising pulses. Swhoosh. Ripple. Pause. Swoosh, thundering crash. Ripple. Pause. Silence. Repeat.
After dropping the firewood and camp chairs in a heap, I sprinted down the beach, barefoot. A full moon rose over the Atlantic as the sky deepened from indigo to black. Emily and I ran together like liberated captives. No one was on the beach to see our inhibitions fall away. Were there crabs in the sand? We were northerners unaware. Like people who don't fear leaf piles because they are unused to copperheads, our bare feet were unafraid.
That heart-pounding full sprint under a pristine white moon brought the complete surrender and release that allowed peace to fill my being. I have spent my life fighting hard instead of waiting for it to arrive on the tide; struggling for needs, for the impulsive something I think I desperately want, for the something that needs to be done. If the laundry ever gets caught up, it's because I'm literally fighting my way through it. If I need to write for a grade, I'm battling all of my ignorance, all of my insecurity, everyone in the class, the people who write academic jargon, and my professor too. If I'm working for money, I'm battling the boss, proving I can excel and master the work. It is a headstrong me that succeeds.
On that night on the beach, after five hours of driving (and battling my way through motorcycles...it was Bike Week! How nerdy I felt driving next to hogs in Grandma's yellow Buick!) instead of being exhausted I was completely energized, so awake and alive I thought I might ascend from the sand and fly. Which I was able to actually do, the following day, when we went hang-gliding together on Jockey's Ridge. But even though actual flight was intensely euphoric, it was that sprint on the beach under the moon that brought the most complete and extensively deep peace. During the running, and afterward.
I've not been able to experience that depth (Or height? Which direction is peace? Submersion or ascension?) while meditating or praying, sitting quietly in silence, or sleeping. Peace happened when I was absolutely the most active my body can be. And it happened after the marathon of paper writing at Guilford College, a place that nearly broke my spirit with nearly impossible standards of achievement.
This somehow makes perfect sense. The peacemakers of the world are activists. They might have meditative or spiritual practices that support the work they do in the world, but mostly, they work incredibly long and grueling hours to help people, sometimes in utterly devastating and dangerous conditions.
What this notion of "active" peace means for me is not to be afraid of doing the work that comes with my life. It means not being lazy about my writing practice, my parenting, or my relationships. It means staying focused on my food choices and exercises. It means not falling into the rut of despair when the work just seems overwhelming and endless.
For me, peace happens during intense sprinting, when I can do nothing else except surrender it all.
I have a terrible confession. When Emily was two years old, I was working as a nanny for a family with four children. The youngest were newborn twins. The middle child was a boy not much older than Emily. After caring for five children all day (four who were still in diapers), I would come home and barely have the energy for my own housework and meal prep. Then came a series of migraines that sent me to a dark room, praying for relief from the hard driving freight train in my head and bouts of nausea.
This work was my passion but it was also intensely demanding and stressful. Though I loved children and was committed to a life of caregiving and teaching, I was drowning in an overload of demands that needed my immediate attention. This job was also the reason why Emily ended up being an only child for such a long time.
I was also terrified of having a son.
Even though I grew up with two completely loving and wonderful brothers, the idea of parenting a son after my experience with nanny-hood made me inwardly faint.
Eight years later, what I trembled to imagine came true.
But by that time, my whole world had changed. I had developed an open mind to God's plan, whatever that meant for me.
So God gave me what I feared the most. When my heart was the most open, when I trusted my higher power, when I dared to take a huge risk in love,
Richard and I became parents of a beautiful son. I don't believe this was merely a result of science and chemical reactions.
For the first time, Emily experienced what it felt like to have a brother. The love, respect and appreciation that I have for Emily expanded as I watched her accept this new family development, which might have caused hurt and jealousy. Instead of being resentful, she just loved her baby brother and celebrated with us.
Infused within the miracle came the joy and security of taking this leap together. Richard has been the most incredibly committed, supportive and engaged father and continues to be Elliot's best friend, role model and teacher.
Play-doh shoes, hats and scarves for toy animals are just one example of Elliot's creative inventions.
We love you Elliot, more than words can say. Happy 10th Birthday! It's been a happy, love filled and exciting decade for all of us.