Thinking of You

Dear Jack,

Dawn hesitatingly arrives revealing a frosty and snowladen landscape. Memories arrive at a much faster pace, flooding my senses with piercing gazes, touches, laughter, tears. Delicious meals shared, happy occasions celebrated, holidays made festive at this very table. Now the home is mostly abandoned, Mom and Dad mainly using the place for guests to lay their weary heads. 

Where did the years go? Smiling faces greet me in photographs, the people in the pictures still young and vibrant. There is one of you and me, smiling broadly, beaming happiness. It feels like only yesterday, yet years have passed, stripping the faces of their smiles, carving lines where none existed before, leaving the bodies weak, and – in some cases – racked by illness. In some cases even dead. 

Scary thing, death. Or maybe by some welcomed with relief after years of pain and suffering? You left easily and without struggle, as I know you would have preferred it. Death is not particular – it takes young and old alike. Anna was young, she should’ve had her whole life ahead of her, but death decided differently. You were only in your early 70s and could easily have had many more years ahead. Gudrun had been struggling for years, illness leaving her a mere shadow of her once vibrant self, yet she left reluctantly. And Mom, dear Mom, although seriously ill for more than a dozen years, she is still here. You have left, others have left, but she has surprised us all with her indomitable will to hang on to life. Her spirit has suffered in the last couple of months, however. Unexpected bouts of pain and discomfort have left her weakend both in body and spirit, yet if given a choice, she would undoubtedly choose life. So often we treat life carelessly in the years of our youth. I know I did. Feeling invincible, taking unnecesary risks, we at times play at the precipice, but life becomes very precious when we are faced with the real possibility of losing it. Sooner or later it comes to that for all of us, yet we are never quite prepared for that departure. I know I wasn’t prepared for yours. Maybe we never are?

Sorry if my musings seem morbid. Sitting alone in a home full of memories, so many of its occupants and visitors having already departed, conjures up uncomfortable questions about our sojourn through life. Don’t misunderstand me, I am grateful, so very grateful for all the memories! Happiness lived here. I remember arguments and strife as well from my youth, but mostly happiness. Happiness may not always have been obvious or very dignified, but it was there, hiding in plain sight in everyday life, in moments of togetherness, but also in times of aloneness. We may expect happiness to look different, to arrive with grand gestures and obvious signals of exuberance, but that is seldom the case. It’s more likely to hide in odd and unexpected places, in the din of everyday life, in exchanged glances of mutual understanding, in crooked smiles or stolen squeezes of the beloved’s hand at the dinner table, hidden away behind the table cloth. It lives in stories and laughter mingled with seriousness, in everyday meals and in feasts, in quiet evenings in front of the tv, or moments of relief after some piece of scary news was expelled. It hides in quiet walks in nature in summer, surrounded by the whisper of the trees, in the happy thrills of a lark in the sky or the hum of a bumblebee droning by. And it is visible in the sun low on the horizon on a winter’s day, bouncing off fields of snow or the multitude of bluish windows in the Nokia building by the freeway. If we are present in the moment, it doesn’t take a lot to find happiness in anything. In everything. It took time, but I managed to find it even without you.

Wanting to recreate some Christmas cheer, I lit the candles in the four-armed candelabra, and placed it on the dining room table, basking in the warm light and in sweet memories. I wish you were here with me to share this moment, so we could once again go down to the market place together, sample odd foods like blood pudding with lingonberry jam or tiny fried fish reminding me of smelt. We would buy flowers for Mom, and Danishes for Dad to take along for the afternoon visit. They were always so happy to see you, and you lit up my life in a way that still glows and warms my heart. How lucky was I to meet you among the billions of people on this planet! How lucky were we to find a safe and loving home with each other in this world of busy-ness and discontent!

You would be proud of how Annie has created a life for herself, and you would adore the little grandson! He stole my heart the very moment I laid eyes on him, his clear-eyed gaze following my every move, and smiling at me even across the Atlantic through the marvel of Skype or WhatsApp. I’ll see him in a few days when I head over to the islands. Jonas will also come along. You’d be proud of him, too, and the way he’s fashioned a life and a business for himself. You were always the greatest stepdad for them, loving and kind. They loved you, too. They still do, even as they love their dad. He will also come with us to the islands, helping to transport some of my things over there, all of us eager to spend time with the Little Man, who now totters around without much hesitation, and expresses his wishes quite clearly. You would love all the plans I’ve made, I know, just as I know you would rejoice in me managing to live on without you. You were never stingy with love, jealous or petty, and I know you would wish me every happiness just as I would’ve wished you, had I left first. Happiness isn’t always easy to find, used as I am to finding it with you, but I am doing my best, trying to stay present in the moment, and I know happiness lives also in this moment, just the way it is. 

Much love to you! Love greater than eternity!
XOXO

Monica

 

Featured image by Monica, view from Botans, southern Finland

 

Advertisements

Not Quite Ready to be Happy

Image credit: Pixabay, ColiN00B

It is said that happiness is a choice. I believe that. I also believe it’s not always an easy choice, although it would seem to be the obvious one. Why would we not choose happiness? Maybe because it requires creating new neural pathways in our brain?

Those of you familiar with the popular British series “Downton Abbey” may recall a conversation that took place between Mrs. Crawley, Mary Crawley and Tom Branson. They had all lost loved ones – Tom his wife, Mary her husband, and Mrs. Crawley both her husband and her son. The three of them were sitting in the nursery one evening around Christmas time reminiscing, remembering happy things about their departed loved ones. They all knew that their loved ones would want them to be happy again, and it’s not like they were in the throws of grief at that time, but they also weren’t fully ready to move on. Mary captured it beautifully: “I’m not unhappy. I’m just not quite ready to be happy.”

Anybody who has experienced serious loss knows that place. Even after years have passed, there is the subconscious fear of “the other shoe dropping”. It’s not a rational fear, but it’s nonetheless real, and it makes us hesitate to reach for happiness again. And even when we do, we most likely feel guilty, as if we were unfaithful to our departed loved one when we laugh, or when we for a moment forget our tremendous loss. Yet opening our hearts again is the best way to honor them, and to again embrace life. Our life. Our loved one may not be here anymore, but we are, and we have a life to live. Wasting it is neither honoring them nor ourselves.

It’s been over eight years since my husband died. It boggles my mind that it’s been that long! I have fallen in love again, and out of love again, but nothing has fully filled that hole in me that his departure left. However, I had a surprising discovery this morning: The hole was not created by my husband’s passing! It was there long before that! His departure made the hole bigger and greatly added to the pain, and it brought to the surface and enhanced the already existing grief, but it is not the full reason for my heart having a hole in the first place. I may not have been aware of it, but that hole in my heart had been created over many years by other losses, big and small. Other life events had left me feeling less than whole, and digging deeply I found that the pain of loss probably goes beyond even these experiences, and at the root of it may be the whole concept of separation. Let me, however, keep to what came to me this morning.

To my big surprise I realized that I have put life on hold. I have done that out of fear of more emotional pain, afraid that life will demand I give up yet other relationships, other loved ones, other attachments… There are, of course, losses ahead for most of us. Loved ones of the older generations will leave, that is a natural part of  life, and something I will have to deal with when the day comes. I’ve been lucky enough to have my parents live to a respectable age, and I’ve even had the privilege of having relationships with my grandparents, something I am very grateful for. However, what I fear the most is that something would happen to my children… This morning I could see the long thread of fear reaching all the way back to when they were born. It’s an unreasonable fear, not rooted in anything real, except maybe the soul memory of over time losing parts of my own self. The connection may not be immediately obvious, but most of us lose parts of our genuine selves, and that pain is interpreted as proof that the world isn’t a safe place and life not an altogether happy affair. That belief is then lived out in broken dreams, broken hearts, separations, divorces,  and losses of different kinds. I can see that pattern in my own life, and I know e.g. the grief that followed the divorce from my children’s father, and later on from the long geographical distance my choices put between my children and myself. They are now adults, with lives of their own, and they have survived the years of times apart, and constant transatlantic travel, but not without scars and without holes in their own hearts.

My realization this morning was that the ultimate source of my grief, and resistance to life in general, isn’t just the death of my husband, but it is something that stems from all  losses I’ve experienced in life. The realization brought me to tears. The tears bubbled from deep within, and in a way it was a relief to finally let them flow, and to accept that whatever has been cannot be changed, and however much I may fear more emotional pain, it will not spare me from the future reality of it. My fear, worrying and resistance cannot alter a single thing, only add to the pain. Grief is the ultimate price we pay for love. Opening our hearts, letting life and people in, living, loving and feeling fully, always comes with the possible price tag of loss. But what is the alternative? If we don’t open our hearts and live in the moment, we lose our own life! If we open our hearts, and let others in, we may lose them, and that will cause us pain. Yet losing ourselves in an attempt to shield ourselves from pain is actually ludicrous, since it only leads to the ultimate loss – the loss of self. And it in no way shields us from pain!

Seeing this, I actually prayed this morning. I’m not good at praying. I figured if there is a God, He/She already knows everything about me and what I need, and there isn’t anything I can ask for that He isn’t already aware of. However, this morning I did ask for something: I asked that my resistance to and fear of the unknown would be removed, and replaced by trust instead. That may be my New Year’s resolution: to be present in my life, and to be willing to choose happiness. Whatever comes, comes, and I will deal with it if and when it comes. Worrying about it isn’t helping me, only robbing me of the happiness I could experience today. Let that then be my resolution: to be present in my life;  to choose happiness; to be willing to walk down new paths, and grow new neural pathways in the process!

Comforting words came to me from “A Course in Miracles”:

“Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.

Herein lies the peace of God.”

And so I now send the prayer forth into the universe, hoping that it finds you as well, wherever you are, and whatever you are going through. May you find the “peace that passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), and even if we don’t have answers or even know what life is all about, may we have the courage to go forth anyway, each day, giving it our best. Moment by moment, step by step, breath by breath.

Blessings on your day!

 

 

Love, Show Me

Love,
this fragile, fragrant, powerful force,
holding universes and lives together,
this elusive feeling we chase,
not knowing the extreme of it
nor the fire it holds.
That the answer to all riddles?

Love, show me!
Show me your face in the pink of the rising sun,
your force in the wind, the rain, the snow.
Your beauty in birds flying above, bugs crawling below,
fish swimming in the sea,
love, show me,
the cradle and chalice of life!

Love, show me your face in nature,
in the force of the earthquake, the tsunami,
the hurricanes devastating lives.
Let me see you in accidents,
and in the acts of man leaving
destruction, hearts shattered, minds blown.

Love, show me!
Show me the frailty in people bustling by,
their aching hearts,
their dreams, their ambitions, their fears.
Let me see their kindness,
their forgiveness, their every good deed.

Love, show me
the meaning in worlds colliding,
powers clashing,
in death and destruction,
and in the face of pervasive evil,
show me my need of you!

Most of all,
show me your face in all that is,
in the wonder of life,
in kindness, in forgiveness,
in the bliss of being born, of being human, and
in the toothlessness of death.

Love, show me my heart!

Love, show me!

Ode to Human Life

Human Life

A collection of memories,
pictures stored in the brain,
emotions, colors, scents, tastes.
A lifetime passing in a moment,
flooding us with jubilation or sadness,
pain or ecstasy.

Or a moment stretching out in grief
as if forever…

So much of life behind,
yet here I am,
asking the same questions as in my youth,
life still a mystery!
How is it that only this moment is real,
when in this moment everything can be known?
I can hear the silence,
I can see beyond forever, and

I can remember…

Walking down the forest path at Grandma’s
smelling the crisp spring air,
seeing the carpet of white forest anemones,
hearing the birds, the babble of the brook,
sensing the light green of budding trees.

Sitting in her kitchen,
grinding coffee beans,
fire crackling in the stove,
the smell of newly baked bread
filling the air, the brain still
recalling the taste. 

Yet, in this moment,
decades later,
in a far away land,
I re-member,
I put the pictures together,
re-living them,
bringing it all back,

Weaving it into today.

Grandma no longer here, her life
of trials and tribulations
surviving only in the stories she told,
standing with her back to the kitchen stove
rocking back and forth,
telling tales of bygone times,
of courtships and beaus of old,
and fabulous fashions created on her Singer.

And Grandpa,
dear Grandpa, who sailed the world,
bringing home china and
tales of wonders he’d seen,
the family not really intent on listening
or wanting to share in his adventures.
What happened to his treasure throw of memories,
his struggles, his love, his efforts?

Memories float by like ships in the mist.
Time with Grandparents, and cousins,
Summers at the cottage with Mom and Dad,
way back when I was a tot,
when Mom was young, vibrant and beautiful
and Dad a tall, handsome chap,
dedicated to his little family.

And there was a cat,
a black and white tomcat
that captured my heart…

What does it all mean?
The bursts of bliss and happiness,
the heartache, pain, and grief?
The loyalty, the betrayals, the insights?
Loves lost, love found, love forgotten,
opportunities missed,
and sometimes,
life occasionally grabbed
with both hands,
caution thrown to the wind!

A lifetime squeezed into a fleeting moment!

Still today
Dad dotes on Mom, like Grandpa
doted on Grandma,
Parents doting on their brood
like I dote on mine,
from afar.
Love an invisible thread that binds
through ups and downs, thick and thin,
challenges, arguments and imperfections,
the one thing real in a world of illusions.

Love.

 

Featured Image by Analogicus, Pixabay.com

 

Snow Memories

“Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
Since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” – From “Let It Snow” by Cahn and Styne

The wind is howling outside, and the snow  has drifted up against the kitchen door so it cannot be opened. Fortunately the front door is shielded by a covered entryway, so the dogs can get out that way. Even so the dogs hesitate to get out in the swirling snow and the battering of the wind, so I bundle up and step outside with them, and they quickly do their business and run back in. Seems today is a day to just hunker down, enjoy the fire in the pellet stove, and the company of a good book!

Am I ever grateful that my good neighbor, George, helped wheel in more sacks of pellets yesterday, and that the shop vac used to vacuum ashes out of the stove got a clean bag and filter! My back has been out since Thanksgiving, and yesterday was the first time in three weeks that I even went to the grocery store. The weather was sunny and mild yesterday, encouraging outings, so the dogs also got to go to the park for some runs to make up for all the days they haven’t even been walked.

This is totally different than the first snow we had in November. That brought back happy memories for me. There is something exciting about the first snow! It stirs warm, cosy feelings in me, and feelings of exuberance. I’m not a winter sports person, I’m really not a sports person at all, but the first snow makes me feel like a kid again. Probably because I have happy winter memories from my childhood. However, the first memory that did come to mind was not very happy at all. I was around five, six years old, and out cross-country skiing with my dad. The ski track was nice and firm, but my skills were very limited, and I kept falling a lot. The bindings kept coming off, my hand sunk deep into the drifts next to the track, the mittens were lost in the snow, and I couldn’t get up by myself. I’m sure it wasn’t a very fun trip for dad, who had to stop every few yards to help me up, but over the years things improved, and I remember other ski trips, long trips, in pristine landscapes, and the occasional thrill of good, long rides down some scary hills.  In the spring we used to ski out on the ice, enjoying the bleak sun, and the warmth when we stopped to rest behind a wind break. I was much older then, and the memory surprised me, because it means that I kept skiing all those years growing up.

It’s now been years since I donned skis, or skates,  or enjoyed the thrill of sledding in the winter, but that’s what my brothers and I used to do when we were young. We didn’t spend time in front of a tv or a computer, because we had neither, and the outdoors always beckoned, unless the weather was prohibitive. Even when it was cold we went skating, and more than once I came home with frostbitten cheeks. Fortunately it wasn’t anything that caused lasting damage, but it shows how immersed we were in our activities, since we didn’t even notice how cold we sometimes got.

It now seems like a picture perfect memory, or like something taken out of a movie, but at home mom waited with hot chocolate or a home cooked meal, and I can still remember the good feeling of tired limbs warming up over a bowl of soup or a steaming stew, and then a game of some kind, or a good read. We always played games when I was growing up, and I always read books, and I see now how beneficial that was. There was interaction, and togetherness, and something to feed the imagination, something that is easily lost in today’s media driven culture. My cousin and I even travelled across town just to sit together and read, pouring over the adventures of Selma Lagerlöf’s “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils”, or some other big epic.

The first snow in New Mexico in November didn’t bring a lot, but enough to change the landscape and to cover trees and bushes with a layer of white. I went for a walk before the rest of the town woke up, and I took just Pia, the heeler mix, along for the early exploration. It was still snowing a bit, and the ground was wet, but a wonderful feeling of happiness rose in me, and made me feel excited about being alive. It also brought up the expectation of Christmas, and that was kind of early, since we were still many weeks away from the Holiday season! It is amazing how memories hidden away in the depth of our being can bring such joy! The flip side, of course, is that hidden memories can also bring sadness, anger or grief, and they can do that even when we don’t remember what it is that causes these emotions to arise.

That morning, however, my focus was on happiness, and walking through the quiet streets with Pia, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that made me feel so happy, but thinking about it, the memories gradually came back. Lovely memories from the growing up years that I hadn’t thought of in decades! What a gift to find those jewels! And thinking about them today, they alter how I view the rest of the growing up years. It’s too easy to be selective in our memories, and too often the upsetting memories remain on top, and cloud our vision. Remembering my parents the way they were back then makes it easier to put up with their grouchiness now. Mom’s been ill for many years, and there is not much left of the beautiful and sparkly person she once was, and dad has been caught taking care of her, and become quite tired and worn out in the process. Life shrinks decidedly when illness enters the picture, and so much of what could’ve brightened their senior years has been out of reach. These last few weeks mom, too, has been out with severe back pain to the point of being hospitalized and put on heavy pain medication, and dad has been out with a bad cold. Although we geographically live half a world apart, it seems we have gone through the same pains at the same time, and it has reminded me of the bonds we share with our family, and other people close to us.

Let us cherish the people in our lives, and focus on what we have in common rather than on things that separate us. Let us breathe in the comfort of happy memories, of moments of togetherness and ease, and let that be our guiding star this Christmas season. Even among the most difficult of memories there are pearls of tenderness hidden, and if we can just remember them, they will light up the whole landscape of our memories.

Here is my wish for you: Please let a happy memory light up your day today, and all the days of this Holiday season, and remember to tell someone how much you love and appreciate them. Tomorrow it might be too late. Cherish the good times, and allow them to brighten your life. In the end it is all good!

 

Featured Image by Monica

 

Let It SnowLet It SnowLet It Snow!” – also known as just “Let It Snow” – is a song written by lyricist Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne in July of 1945. The song was written in Hollywood, California, during a heat wave as Cahn and Styne imagined cooler conditions.

Stubborn Angels

We need the comfort of companionship and community, and we need to feel that we have something to contribute, that we are useful, and that our life has meaning.

The title for the blog was taken from a song by Brad Paisley.
The song can be found below the blog text.

David Howarth’s book “We Die Alone” is the amazing true story of Norwegian operative Jan Baalsrud fleeing the Germans in Nazi occupied Norway during World War II. It is an epic of endurance and survival. There are many wondrous stories about survival under extreme circumstances, but there is something about Jan’s story that particularly stirs my imagination. Maybe because he was alone during so much of his ordeal, and he endured such unimaginable conditions. Not only was he injured, but he fled in harsh winter conditions, survived an avalanche, experienced snow blindness, extreme exhaustion and exposure, and for several weeks he was lying out in the open on a high plateau without real shelter, and injured to the point of not being able to move around. How does one survive conditions that would surely kill most men? I have not seen myself as one who has a strong will to live, so whenever I read true stories of survival, I am trying to understand what it is that makes people hang on to life? What gives them such a drive to live? What makes them overcome the most dire of circumstances? I’ve read Jan’s story three times to try to understand what made him survive!

Jan Baalsrud was 26 years old when he in March of 1943 sailed from the Shetland Islands together with a crew of eight and three other Norwegian operatives. They were headed  to Norway to organize and aid the Norwegian resistance. Jan had had vigorous training, he was versed in guerrilla warfare, and he was in excellent physical condition at the time the group arrived in Norway. Due to unfortunate circumstances they were betrayed  before they had landed, and after a fight in Toftefjord Jan as the only survivor fled alone from the Germans, injured, and without proper equipment. Kind people took him in, gave him food, and let him rest before he continued his arduous journey to the Swedish border. These people helped him knowing full well that they put their own lives in danger by  aiding a fugitive.

During WWII Sweden was neutral, Finland was co-belligerent with the Germans (as they like to call it), and Norway was occupied by the Germans, so Jan’s only bet was to get to Sweden, and then on to England. The escape to the border had to happen before the winter ended and the spring thaw made the terrain impossible to traverse, and before the nights turned light, and would no longer give cover to people trying to travel undetected.

Even when Jan was physically in shape, it took him considerable time and effort to traverse the difficult terrain he found himself in. If it had not been for the kindness of strangers, his situation would have been quite impossible. After he survived an avalanche and was struck with snow-blindness, he was delirious and exhausted, and totally at the mercy of the people whose house he literally fell into. This is the backdrop to Jan’s long and agonizing journey to Sweden, and the amazing story of all the people who risked their lives to save his.

Twice Jan despaired… After he had recovered enough to be moved, his rescuers had with much effort hauled him up 3,000 feet onto a plateau above their village, where Jan was less likely to be discovered by the Germans, and where people from the next village had promised to pick him up for further transport to Sweden. Except when the people from the neighboring village finally came for him, they could not find him! The snowstorm that had delayed everyone had totally covered Jan, and lying like in a small vault under the snow Jan could not hear the shouts from above.  He found himself totally alone for many days, lying helpless in his grave of snow, cold and wet, with his toes attacked by gangrene, without food, and unable to move. His situation was dire indeed. When his friends did not come to check on him as agreed, he thought they might have been injured or caught by the Germans. He knew that if that was the case, it would mean the end of him as well, since he was injured and too weak to do anything on his own. He was totally dependent on the goodwill of others to get him to safety. It seems to me that despite his weakness, he still at this time saw himself as a valuable part of a bigger picture, and his aim was to get to safety, get well, and then rejoin his unit, so he could continue to serve the cause he had been trained for. I think that is what kept his spirit alive.

Despite repeated and courageous efforts by the people helping Jan, they were not able to get him to the border, and so the weeks passed and Jan, lying alone up on the plateau, exposed to the elements, grew weaker and weaker. He finally reached a point when the spark left him, and he felt that his life was no longer worth saving. Thinking of all the people who risked their lives to save his, he found that he could not justify the risks they were taking, seeing as his own life was running out, and he no longer saw himself as ever being able to be useful again. At that time he had grown so weak that he could no longer cock his gun to do away with himself, so he was left to helplessly wait for the inevitable end. Even when people from the village came to visit him, he could no longer rally the spark that had up till then kept him alive, and even without sharing his state of mind with them, they knew that he was dying.

We would never have heard of this story if it weren’t for the fact that Jan in the end did survive. Two Lapps (Sami people), while moving their reindeer heard for the Summer season, agreed to take Jan on a sledge to Sweden, and despite no common language between them in which to communicate, and with the Germans hot on their heels, they made it. Jan eventually recovered from his ordeals, and although he had lost his toes to gangrene, he learned to walk again, and he was able to rejoin his regiment and he was sent again to Norway as an agent.

What made him survive? What made him hang on in the face of insurmountable odds? The way I see it is that he had help. He had people who cared about him, and he also felt that he was part of a bigger picture. As long as he felt his life still had value, and he would be able to contribute, his will to live stayed strong. When he came to the place where he lost all hope, and he felt as if he would never be able to meaningfully contribute to life again, it was the insistence of the people helping him that kept him alive. It never occurred to them that he wouldn’t be worth saving, and despite the danger to their own lives and that of their family members,  they worked tirelessly to make sure Jan made it to safety. Alone he could not have made it, and it seems to me that neither can we. We need the comfort of companionship and community, and we need to feel that we have something to contribute, that we are useful, and that our life has meaning. 

In this particular Season of Thanksgiving, let us all be grateful for the people in our lives, for our loved ones, friends and family, and also for the strangers life places in our path. Let us remember to be kind, and to serve each other. We are all connected and cannot separate ourselves from the fates of our fellow travelers on this journey through life. Let us not harden our hearts, but let us open them to embrace also those less fortunate than ourselves. Let us not cower in fear, or give up on ourselves or each other, but let us live our lives like all those courageous individuals who helped Jan Baalsrud survive. Let us live our lives as somebody’s Stubborn Angels!

 

Featured image by Alyn, Pixabay.com

References:

David Howarth: We Die Alone. A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance
ISBN 1-55821-973-0

 

For Peace

I realized that as long as I harbor hatred, anger or violence in my heart, I am contributing to the violence in the world.

Today we celebrate 100 years since the end of World War I. November 11th is also Veterans Day in the US, and as it happens Jack’s and my wedding anniversary. We had reasons of our own to get married on 11:11 at 11 AM, and at the time I didn’t even know that was also the time peace was proclaimed after the war that was supposed to end all wars. Jack is no longer here to celebrate this day with me, but I commemorate this day, and I celebrate him, and all other active or retired military personnel, and all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and our way of life.

It is a paradox that there is a huge military machinery in place to keep the peace, and one may wonder if it isn’t a total fallacy that we can keep ourselves safe by engaging in war? Albert Einstein (1879-1955) said that “Peace cannot be kept by force, only by understanding”, while Albert Camus (1913-1960) said that “Peace is the only battle worth waging”. Many other people have weighed in on the discussion of peace and said noteworthy things, and if asked, I believe most people would say that peace is something they wish for. Yet how can peace come, if we have hearts full of fear and minds full of violence?

Many, many years ago there was a  women’s peace conference in Scandinavia. I lived in Finland at the time, I was a young wife and mother, and I was not at the conference in person, but I listened to radio broadcasts from it while cooking and baking in the comfort of my own kitchen. A lot of the things that were shared at the conference I could agree with, but there was a dichotomy that I didn’t agree with. There was much talk about the men’s world, about the wars and violence waged by men. It is true that it is mostly men out there fighting our battles, but aren’t they doing it to protect their families, their countries and their way of life? The notion that only men would be  to blame for the chaos and violence in our world is a strange one. Who brought up all these men? They had mothers didn’t they? Yet the women I listened to on the broadcast seemed to think that they had nothing to do with the violence perpetrated by men.

In talking about the agenda and focus of a small, local women’s peace group, among all the other things that were shared, somebody slipped up, and talking again about the violence of men, a woman said: “We come together, we talk about the men, the violence, and we hate…” I can understand strong sentiments against war and violence, and strong words in condemning the atrocities that take place in times of war, but HATE…? That word reverberated in me, and I have never forgotten it. How can you promote peace, if you have hate in your heart? It was so striking that I called the radio station, and I asked that question of the person responsible for the broadcast, but she had totally missed it…

Well, I learned something that day that has defined my life. I realized that as long as I harbor hatred, anger or violence in my heart, I am contributing to the violence in the world. I may not be out there physically fighting on the battlefield or killing people, but when I allow anger or rage to dictate my actions, I am contributing to the very thing I profess to be against. We are all part of life and linked to everything and everyone else, and whatever we contribute either benefits peace or works against it. Whatever we focus on, we create more of. That doesn’t mean we aren’t to keep informed, but whatever emotions we emit contribute either to the violence in the world or to a peaceful solution.

Just to be clear, all the women’s organizations and international organizations working for peace in the world are much needed, and doing great work. My point is that it is way too easy to “see the speck in your brother’s eye, but not notice the log that is in our own eye” (Matthew 7:3) What we are not willing to see in ourselves, we see in others, and attack it there. In Psychology this is called projection.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” These words have been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), and the meaning is clear: Whatever we wish to promote in the world, we must embody in our own lives. Taking responsibility for what we contribute to the world, working on releasing the pain in our hearts, finding more balance and wholeness in our own lives, is not a selfish enterprise; it is necessary if we wish to promote peace in the world.

On this day commemorating peace, let me finish with the words of John O’Donohue (1956-2008), Irish poet, author, priest and philosopher. “For Peace”, narrated by Sr. Patricia Twohill, OP:

 

Featured Image, Petunia Growing in Concrete Gutter, by Monica