Reclaiming Peace

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
Etty Hillesum

I find myself returning again and again to Etty Hillesum’s words, absorbing them, hoping they will take deep root and live in me during this holiday season.

As I sit in my kitchen on this gray December morning, so aware of time passing and so wishing to make the most of each shared family moment, the idea of cultivating peace at home and in my heart seems particularly apt.

These are short, dark days. Much of the world is in turmoil. Our country feels divided, split by cynicism and falsehood. In my own life, I’m feeling the weight of having too much to do and never enough time to do it all. No matter how early I get up or how late I go to bed, I don’t get enough accomplished. There are no Christmas cookies this year, no handmade gifts, no special things to place under the tree. My writing is stalled, my concentration jagged – I keep thinking of all the loose ends I’ve left dangling, keep wondering where, exactly, I’m meant to be and what I’m really meant to be doing, keep being distracted from the slow, painstaking work of crafting sentences and returning instead to the ever-expanding to-do list. Neither place feels quite right: I “should” be working on my manuscript, and I “should” be creating Christmas for my family, but instead I’m stuck somewhere in the middle, feeling as if I’m failing at both.

Yesterday, my son Henry turned twenty-two, a fact that fills me with both pride and wonder: how did we get here so fast? Wasn’t it just a few short years ago that he was a week old and we dressed him up in a tiny velour Santa suit and posed for our first family portrait? Wasn’t it only yesterday that he spent the days before Christmas sitting upstairs at his desk writing college applications? Now, he’s just months away from graduation, months away from having to find a job, a home, an adult life of his own. The years fly by, faster and faster it seems. This week Jack was accepted at Boston University, his first choice for school. I’m thrilled he’ll be close to us next year, but stunned to realize he’s actually old enough to go to college. Over the weekend, my husband pulled out a pile of old photographs of our boys when they were little: all fat cheeks and cuddles, innocence and giggles. Tiny beings that live now only in pictures and in our memories. Amazing to think that our lives have already had such breadth and span, that we have lived through our child-rearing years, raised sons to young adulthood, watched them leave home, and then eagerly awaited their return, knowing that soon they will leave again.

Tomorrow night, Henry will arrive and our family will have two short weeks together. Today, I’m preparing for his homecoming by clearing all my books and papers out of his bedroom, where I’ve been working these last few months. But I am also taking some time to prepare myself. Instead of getting started on a new chapter or running around doing errands and last-minute shopping, I’ve decided to stay home and just sit in stillness for a while. Today, I need to cast my lot with “being” rather than with “doing,” and to trust that being is enough. To believe that reclaiming large areas of peace in myself is perhaps the most urgent, most necessary work I could do.

I feel inspired, most of all, by a moment on Saturday afternoon at my brother and sister-in-law’s house. Jack and Steve and I had attended their four-year-old’s Christmas pageant, an epic musical production performed by sixteen nursery schoolers in full costume. Afterward, as the whole extended family sat around in the living room enjoying a late lunch of chili and cornbread, little Gabriel accidentally whacked his grandfather’s dish from his hand; a direct, home-run hit. Food flew everywhere – an entire bowl’s worth of chili spattered on the beige wall-to-wall. There was a moment of stunned silence in the face of the disaster. Gabriel’s eyes filled with tears. And in that instant, as chili seeped into the rug and everyone leapt into action, a choice was also made for peace. No one shouted. No one scolded. No one got upset or delivered a lecture about little boys who ought to be more careful.

“It’s all right,” Gabe’s mom said, as she went for the Resolve and paper towels. “It’s all right,” my brother reassured his son, as he got down on his knees and began to clean up the mess. You could feel the tension in the room dissipate as quickly as it had come. Peace reclaimed and reflected back into the world. Peace as moral duty. Peace as the true lesson of the day. Peace because Gabriel, too, will be all grown up in the blink of an eye, and soon enough his own parents will be looking back at his vanished childhood, wondering if they’ve taught him well, if they’ve prepared him to bring peace into this troubled world. Small moments; big, lasting impressions. I like to think that, as the big sister with the grown-up kids, I’m the one who can teach my younger sibling a few things about being a parent. But just as often, he teaches me.

I know that what matters most this week is not how much I manage to get done, how many words I write, or how many presents I wrap, but how I choose to be. And that what brings our sons home to this house, my parents to our hearth on Christmas morning, family and friends to our table for dinner, is surely not just a sense of duty and tradition but a universal longing for connection and love, acceptance and peace.

Peace is what we all yearn for, and peace is the gift that we can offer one another – in a word of forgiveness, in a smile, a hug, a kindness done, a gratitude expressed. Even in the ease with which a huge mess of chili gets cleaned off a rug.

Reading the newspaper each morning, it is easy to despair, easy to see how readily seeds of hatred and fear grow into crops of violence and cruelty. But I take my cue from my brother and sister-in-law’s loving patience with their children, and solace in the faith of a young Dutch woman who could envision the possibility of peace even as she awaited her own certain death at Auschwitz in 1943. This is the Christmas spirit I aspire to embody, the truth I will try to remember as we light the candles, serve the meals, play the music, and celebrate this time together: peace begins here, right where we are, and peace is always possible.

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your comments

  1. Michelle@OurWonderfilledLife says:

    Thank you so much for these words that I so needed to hear. As always you are a voice of wisdom and reason. Merry Christmas!!

    Michelle

  2. As always, your words touch something deep inside of me. I’m sitting here with tears rolling down my cheeks and feel a new softness towards my own children, whose fat cheeks are in the past and who have, truth be told, been on my nerves of late. I inhale your words like peace itself and am inspired to bring a new gentleness to my family. Thank you. xoxo
    (and big college congratulations – I’m selfishly thrilled you may find yourself in town some!)

  3. What a beautiful read. Your words ring true in every sense and bring a comfort that we can choose to feel and be rather than do and avoid. Blessings x

  4. As always, I find yor blogs inspiring. Good message to pause and find some inner peace at this time. I took to heart a previous one, from your German friends, who send each other pictures of their ordinary day.

    So at the beginning of December, I started to take pictures of “Appreciate the Season” and sending them daily to my immediate family and close friends. Not really sure if I was bothering them, or these were enjoyed, I was surprised by how many said thet looked forward to opening these emails everyday, and were passing them on to their friends. So thank-you for the inspiration.

    Merry Christmas and All the best for 2012. I will look forward to your newsletters in the coming year.

  5. Katrina
    Thank you for bringing a moment of peace to me this afternoon while reading your beautiful blog post. I’m so glad I paused from my wrapping to read it.

    Also, a big HUGE congrats to Jack for getting in to BU!!! I’m so happy for the whole family. How wonderful that you won’t have to wait until April or May to find some peace in the college admission insanity.

  6. Not sure I can say more than what others have already said, but… thank you for the words of inspiration, to focus on what truly matters during these last few days, before Christmas, too, will be over and we’ll have wondered where it went! Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  7. way to go brother and sister-in-law!! you must be so proud of their parenting.

    peace is what I yearn for most of all in my family – two teenagers and one tween makes that challenging.

    you are so right – it is always possible.

  8. It’s so hard to stop making that “to-do” list the most important thing. It’s hard to change that. We forget how to slow down, to be able to find that peace within us. I want to re-claim it, even if it happens in baby steps. Your words always refresh and inspire me.

  9. I shall try to take my cue from you in the midst of frenetic activity. So, here’s to peace, with some good cheer for good measure. Namaste

  10. wonderful inspiring words as always. I will try to cultivate peace as I host a houseful of children and grandchildren and dogs, too! this Xmas. I so look forward to this but then am in a frenzy to prepare and find myself working non-stop when they are here…and then they are gone. With more peace in my heart may may days be calmer and the time of their visits go slower.

  11. Thank you. I needed to hear your message this morning. I have found myself irritable instead of peaceful during this busy season. I do so want to enjoy my family. Today I will seek peace and hopefully share it as well!!!

  12. I feel so many of these same feelings … perhaps a sign of the times for mothers everywhere as peace seems more and more elusive in our world. And yet I also feel so much more at peace with my personal situation. It’s a lovely place to be. More — much more — work to be done but definitely a time to just be. Thank you!

  13. Perfect and just what I needed to hear. Thank you.

  14. I thank God for bringing you into my life. You have no idea how meaningful your words are to me and so many of us. You have expressed so beautifully all that I am feeling inside. It is so comforting to know we are not alone in our feelings. I wish you and your family a most peaceful Christmas.

  15. A good word Katrina. Thank you for writing right from where you are, so many of us find ourselves there too. Love & joy to you and your family this Christmas!

  16. As always, your writing is EXACTLY what I need to hear right now. Thank you so much for sharing yourself with everyone. We all benefit so much.

  17. Katrina,

    Thank you for this early Christmas gift,
    perfectly written as usual.
    Blessings to all!!

  18. Dear Katrina,

    I paused in the midst of a hectic day to read your words, and I’m so glad that I did. You’ve reminded me to take a deep breath and just *be* with my life and with all things for which I’m grateful.

    (And I’m sorry. I know I’ve contributed to your to-do list!)

  19. Katrina,

    Thank you so much for this. During this busy time of year, it’s often hardest to be patient to those closest to us. Thank you for remembering that peace always starts right here, right now, and is available always.

    xoxo

  20. So often I am aware of these moments as they happen and I know the choices I have to create this type of peace in myself and for others. Some days I do better than others!

    I loved when you said,
    “Today, I need to cast my lot with “being” rather than with “doing,” and to trust that being is enough. To believe that reclaiming large areas of peace in myself is perhaps the most urgent, most necessary work I could do.”

    I always think about the fact that we are’ human beings’ not ‘human doings’ and yet we spend so much time ‘doing’ instead of ‘being’. Thank you for the reminder. Off to be…

    X Meredith

  21. I came over here from Lindsey’s blog and wanted to thank you for this post. Peace is what I need this Christmas (along with a healthy dose of goodwill!) and your words will echo in my head long after the chaos has subsided. Merry Christmas to you!

  22. i opened your book today and read it all. i was browsing the bookstore yesterday and was reading Diane Keaton’s book and suddenly the peaceful blue cover caught my eye. I read a bit of your intro, quickly turned to the first chapter and started soaking in your words. And today, I begin reading and just couldn’t stop. On January 3rd, my college sophomore daughter will be moving out of our home to a leased apartment with a friend. Leaving our high school sophomore daughter with a decision to keep her room or go for the bigger one. And so the changes begin for us and I just can’t believe how timely it was that i found your book. I read it with pencil in hand as i underlined phrase after phrase that made me laugh, cry, sigh, and dream. Thanks to your book, I have some wonderful quotes to read, a children’s book to go and purchase and a lovely poem I will share with my daughter as we pack her up to leave. Blessings from Georgia!!

  23. Angie Locker says:

    Sitting in a mountain of unmatched socks feeling overwhelmed with a hint of Christmas let down, I reached for my computer something told me I had to read your entry. Thank you for reminding me to be more and do less especially during this time of miracles.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
    Forever grateful,
    Angie Locker

  24. Thank-you so much your lovely message of peace and pause. You reminded me that peace can come from me in all my responses, especially towards precious family members. The chili spill is a little example of how peace can be restored and of mentoring for bigger upsets. Like the saying- Let there be peace and let it begin with me- :) I loved this Christmass week read.

  25. Denise McCleary says:

    Dear Katrina, I just read you Reclaiming Peace. As usual, you have given me a renewed faith in myself and mankind. Your words always seem to touch the doubts in my heart and give me a new peace. In this busy life we forget its ok to “just be”. I always have to remind myself doing nothing is ok. Your story was beautiful. Thankyou for sharing it with us.

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