As an Episcopalian, I cannot hear those words without saying, "And also with you". I have grown up responding to those words, and now, I am going to admit a truth. Who knew you were coming to True Confessions, right? Until this morning, I didn't really and truly think about what those words really mean in the broader context than simply a liturgical and lovely "call and response". When I want to tell someone that I am praying for their peace and serenity, I think deeply about the words I say, but this? I have said the words for years without truly thinking them through. This morning, as Dave and I sat in church, we listened to the sermon about Jesus seeing that He had clearly frightened some of his followers by coming back to life and breaking bread with them. In their fear and disbelief, he said he wanted them to not be afraid and to be at peace.
I want to have peace...within myself, my family, my work, and in the broader worldwide community.
In order to live in peace with myself, I have to do certain things to keep at peace. I pray each morning, I read a daily meditation, and I talk to other people who are seeking the same peace as I am. This may seem like a ritual, and it is in some ways, but I can keep it green by talking to new people, reading new prayers, sharing my thoughts on a meditational reading, and remembering that what I do in private, so I must do in public. In other words, I can't "preach" peace while screaming at one of my students, even if I may, every great once in a while, lose my temper and have to take a big ole' (that's how we say it now that we're back in Texas) deep breath. My own brain is a pretty dangerous neighborhood to walk around in, left to my own devices. So, I rely on my faith, my spiritual advisors, and other loved ones to help me discern what is and isn't God's true desire for me.
In order to live in harmony with Dave, he simply needs to listen to what I say and do it without argument. Just kidding! We have learned and are still learning (after 29 years of marriage) to listen to one another and know that, at the end of our conversation (whether it's about politics or how big the study is going to be in the house we are building), we want to come out on the other side in peace and love. I have always been baffled by how we can show our best selves at work and then rip into the ones whom we most love. I suppose it is the nature of letting our guard down, but it is simply wrong. I should be my best self for Dave, as he is the one I chose to spend the rest of my life with...and we re-up that decision every year. I pray we keep doing that for the next 40 years or so.
How do we remain peaceful at work when all around us is chaos? I am amazed at how many changes have been made in the field of education over the last year or so. I work with some districts who don't know from week to week if they are going to switch from face-to-face teaching to online teaching or vice-versa. What do the COVID numbers show? You might as well turn over the Magic 8 ball...it will surely say "Reply hazy. Try again later." So many people are blaming one person or organization when truly, COVID is a bit tougher to wrestle than even the weather. School administrators are darned if they do; darned if they don't when it comes to school closings. But what if we offered a bit of grace to those in charge? What if we honestly said (and meant---that might be the kicker), "Peace be with you"? I feel certain that students, teachers, staff, administrators, and parents alike would all benefit from a little peace in life right now. I supervise student teachers, I teach graduate students who are getting their master's degrees in educational leadership, and I mentor doctoral students who are trying to get their educational dissertations completed....all during a pandemic that has so vastly changed the landscape of school as we knew it that it makes our heads spin. And yet, they are still working diligently to tap into the field of education to find out what they can do to make it better than ever. I conduct webinars in which people are laughing (not the crazed clown laughter, either; I mean honest to goodness laughter) at each other and my silly jokes and the mistakes we all make. It makes me realize that we all must be finding some modicum of peace in our lives through an unpeaceful time.
And finally, what about the world around us? Would I really mean it if I said that peace is evident in every crevice of our country? Surely not. In fact, I find myself shaking my head at some of the posts I read from my own friends and family members on social media that are filled with hate and vitriolic attacks on one another. I find myself wondering if it is best to ignore those curse-filled comments (I take any cursing off my own page, but I certainly can't control what others say on their own feeds) or to take a stand for peace. I want for peace to "be" with each one of our interactions, even if we disagree. I was amazed at responses I saw to a post that had some suggestions for how we might speak to each other if we wanted to show we were actually listening to one another's beliefs (i.e. "That is an interesting opinion; I want to think about that some more" or "I've never considered that before..."). The response was something to the effect that we need to question everything everyone says. Wait...what? I wonder what would happen if we all operated from a place from Stephen Covey's habit of "Begin with the end in mind", with the "end" being we simply want peace. Do we want to be right or do want for things to be right between us? I admit I have often wanted to be right. I'm just wondering at what cost that belief comes when I know I don't have all the right answers, anyway. If, instead, I want peace, that seems it shouldn't come with such a high price. And yet...
Just for today, I will truly examine what it means to say "Peace be with you" and "And also with you", and to honestly mean it from the bottom of my heart. How about you?
...and leave the rest.
This is a common phrase I hear (and say) in a group to which I belong. The premise is, of course, that you might just hear something someone says that you don't agree with (insert loud gasp of shock and amazement). But what if, instead of arguing about who is right and who is wrong, we simply allowed everyone to speak what they believe is good or right for them, and let the rest go? It seems that 12 step groups have that phenomenon down pat. Why can't the rest of the world try that on for size? The Indigo Girls put out a song many moons ago that contained the line, "Everything that I believe is wrong with you is wrong with me." What does that mean? For me, it means that when I am criticizing someone's belief about politics, religion, the "right" airline or hotel to use, the "right" coffee shop to frequent (my Nextdoor app was going CRAZY about coffee this morning, which I found to be amusing because I don't care for coffee, anyway----want to swordfight about that??), etc., others are very likely critiquing my critique. So, what to do? In social situations, I have learned that the phrase "You might be right" or "Hmmm...that's an interesting perspective I hadn't considered" works great. I truly believe that if I step out onto the proverbial dance floor with the crazy-making opinions, I am doing precisely what I am criticizing other people for doing. And yet...I still get swept up by the music, sometimes, and want to jump out onto the dance floor. For what? Do I really believe that all my words of wisdom are going to change someone's mind about whether or not to get vaccinated or whether they should fly ABC airline? No more than someone is going to change my mind. But I have learned (through a protocol we tried at church a couple of years ago called "For God's Sake, Listen!") to listen to someone else's point of view, and while I don't have to agree with it, I can certainly consider it and where they are coming from.
Why can't we all just get along??, I wonder. But even that very question seems fraught with controversy when people talk about its possible "origin". Here's what I do know. I am truly a hodgepodge of every person with whom I have been blessed to have in my life. I love Chinese food because my closest friends in college "made" me try it for the first time our freshman year, despite my protests. I love musicals because my high school choir friends and I would use the songs from the current musicals of the time in order to audition for the drama department's musicals. I love Labrador Retrievers because Dave and I pored over books about dog breeds when we first got married before deciding on a breed that would change the course of our lives forever. I adore James Taylor and Kenny Rankin because my mother and I listened to their albums when I was in middle school and high school. I likely do not have many "original" likes/dislikes/thoughts. Most of them have surely come from somewhere or someone whose path I encountered. But what if I would have said, "I will never eat hot and sour soup. That sounds nasty"? I would have missed out on so much goodness.
Even with workshops I teach to teachers, school leaders, professors, and my own graduate students, I find myself saying, "If you take nothing else with you from today, I hope you will remember this nugget...." And I hear, sometimes, that they did remember that nugget, and it makes me happy. All I have to do is show some willingness to listen and learn from others, and I might very likely grow in my own wisdom. And if something really gets under my skin? It is likely something I need to take special attention to, as it is likely something that is going to teach me a lesson down my own spiritual journey.
Just for today, consider what you nod your head to and what you vehemently shake your head at. Perhaps you might consider taking what you like and leaving the rest.