We live in a "fix it" world. We are a people of innovation and solutions. When one technological miracle can't solve a problem, there is a better, more efficient model waiting to be unveiled. When issues of homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse, hunger and violence present, we approach them with an eye toward fixing the problem. The question is, how often do we, in our harried states, take on one more issue in an attempt to fix the pain we witness, only to wind up fatigued and disillusioned at how much larger than expected a problem is? How many bags of groceries have we donated to food pantries? How many donations have we made to shelters? How many blankets have we passed out to those who refuse shelter? How many times have we prayed incessantly for peace and for the God of our understanding to hurry up and fix the problems we see? How often have we responded like weary emergency personnel, rushing from one crisis to another? How often have we responded to chaos with our own chaotic desire to fix?
I'm not suggesting that we stop responding...ever. This is a hurting and beautiful world, and our compassionate responses are necessary. Nor am I creating commercial space for a narcissistic self help promotion. What I'm suggesting is that we attend to our own hearts, our connections to Spirit and the earth, those ethereal pieces of each of us that keep us balanced and grounded.
As a younger woman, I worked planning and implementing activities in a nursing home. The needs of the residents were overwhelming to me. I wanted to plan a program that would bring joy, wonder and peace to those whose lives had become institutionalized. I met two men who would forever change my views on what helped to accomplish these things. Paul and David were roommates. Both were under the age of 65. Both had vital, brilliant minds, lovely wives who visited daily, and incredible peace. Both were living with terminal illness. On Valentines day I got permission to stay after work and help them make and serve a special dinner to their wives. I don't remember what we cooked. I do remember the wine, the laughter, the love and the deep sense of gratitude these men and their wives had for such precious use of time. One day in early summer, Paul was out with his family when I visited David. A soft rain had begun to fall, and I sensed David's melancholy. Thinking that the rain had him down, I offered up some platitude in a rather "Annie" manner that the sun would shine soon. "That's not it." He answered. When I asked what it was, he revealed that he couldn't remember the last time he had sat or walked in the rain. I asked what else he was longing for, and understood fully when he mentioned Ben and Jerry's ice cream. I finished my shift, then went and got a pint of Heath bar crunch. We went and sat in the rain, sharing ice cream, tears and silence. There were no words and means that could fix all that was wrong, but this hour or so fed David's sense of peace..and mine.
It's been 20 years since I knew these men, yet I get a craving for ice cream on rainy days still. The gift of our time spent together reminds me how important it is to listen to our spirits, to find our peace before we strive to share it. These guys taught me that words can comfort, but presence doesn't require words. They taught me to ask, to look, and to listen to what peoples' needs are, rather than project my own agenda, however great my intention. They taught me lessons I have needed to relearn over the years. Mostly, they taught me that to have peace inside of me doesn't mean feeling perpetually blissful, and that it's okay and even necessary to cry and eat ice cream in the rain.
So, great. If we can't fix this world and we can't fix one another, and we can't even fix ourselves so that we're happy 100 percent of the time, what's the point? The point is that we are connected. My pain is yours, but so is my laughter. If I care for that part of me that longs for peace and carry that peace with me, you feel it. If you take time to walk barefoot in the rain, or feel the sun on your back, or read something beautiful, then carry that peace with you, I feel it. If we can each keep our peace and share it, we may not be poised to fix the vast problems of this society; but we begin to evoke change in a subtle and meaningful way. As we prepare to enter a new year, my wish for each of you is that you find and hold onto your peace. It is hopelessly slippery, and there will be days when it will slip from your hands and from your life. On those days, may you be open to learning again how to restore peace in your soul. May your cries to the universe or to God be answered with people like David and Paul. May your desire to just stop and feel the rain on your face be met with a bowl of ice cream and the warm hand of a friend.