I keep telling my husband that we jinxed it.

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.



*Names have been changed.

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  1. Jen Gresham March 16, 2011 at 2:42 PM - Reply

    Thanks, Caroline. Those are my favorite parts of the poem as well. It was a big a-ha moment.

    Your friend Aileen sounds like a wise woman. Because we DO all say that. Finding a new mantra is a good start to changing that.

    • Caroline McGraw March 16, 2011 at 3:37 PM - Reply

      You’re most welcome, Jen! Those lines have stayed with me ~ beautiful and true.
      PS- I’ll be sure to pass along the compliment to Aileen 🙂

  2. Raam Dev March 17, 2011 at 12:16 AM - Reply

    Hi Caroline!

    I loved #3: “Get quiet, and take a look at what you’re choosing now.”

    It’s amazing how easily we can forget that we have a choice. Sometimes putting ourselves in a better place is simply a matter of choosing to be in a better place. I wrote a blog post several months ago when I was traveling through Nepal called “Attitude is Everything” where I talked about a lot of this.

    If we choose to have a negative attitude, we will live in a negative world and always struggle to see the light. But if we choose to have a positive attitude — to believe that incredible things are possible; to walk on the edge between what’s realistic and what’s possible — then we will live a life inspired by the potential of possibility.

    • Caroline McGraw March 17, 2011 at 12:53 AM - Reply

      Raam Dev, hello! I loved your comment (and the corresponding blog post as well.)
      Your words make me think of this line of Einstein’s: “There are two ways to live your life – one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.”

  3. Tam March 22, 2011 at 5:22 PM - Reply

    I was recently surprise-gifted a magnet that now hangs on my fridge and reads:
    “peace. it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. it means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
    Oh, the wisdom of magnets and the wisdom of you…thank you, Caroline. I love it and that poem is so beautiful. I believe it.

    • Caroline McGraw March 22, 2011 at 5:44 PM - Reply

      You are most welcome, Tam. A wonderfully fitting quote, too.
      I know what you mean about the poem ~ those lines give me shivers every time.
      here’s to believing. xoxo

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