February 29, 2020

Peace Snuck Up on me—not with a Bang, but a Whisper.


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This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
~ T.S. Eliot


When I discovered T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” in college, I was unprepared for the poem’s ending.

Not in the way one is inevitably unprepared when reading something for the first time. It was more like a shock to the system. 

Was it really possible for something as profound as the end of the world to happen quietly

At 19 or 20 years of age, I’d already lived through my share of bangs (or what passed for bangs in my white, American, middle-class life): my parents’ divorce(s) and remarriage(s), failed classes in high school, college rejection letters, breakups and betrayals, loved ones passing away—the usual fare. I was programmed to be on the lookout for bangs, and they sure as hell felt like the end of the world at the time.

In retrospect, though, I can see that some of the most profound losses in my life happened with little fanfare. My youth, for one, has been fading year by year in almost imperceptible increments. When I turn 50 in November, I’m sure that will feel like a bang, but really it’s just my life marching on, one day, one pair of reading glasses at a time. 

My first marriage had plenty of bang moments, but at the end, there weren’t any raised voices or holes punched into walls. It was just over.

And my friends think this one is gross, but I remember feeling a profound sense of loss when I realized I had changed my last diaper. I wish I’d known the last one was the last one, and that goes for every aspect of my boys’ childhood: the last pair of footie pajamas, the last time I’d ever see them naked, the last time we would hold hands.

But you know what else I’ve learned? Peace can sneak up on you, too. 

I suspect many of us believe peace will one day announce itself definitively, perhaps in the form of a wedding proposal, or a job offer, or a positive pregnancy test. As Americans, we’re conditioned to look for the quick fix, the thing that will make it all better: a winning lottery ticket, or the right pill, or finally shedding those stubborn 10 pounds. 

But for me, after two solid decades of near-continuous angst stemming from a variety of sources and circumstances, peace was all of a sudden, well…there

It didn’t come all at once. The first thing I noticed was that after decades of insomnia and constipation (basically my entire adult life) I was now sleeping through the night and pooping like a champ. When I finally realized that it had been months since I’d had a sleepless night, all I said to myself was: Huh, I guess I’m a sleeper now. I chalked it up to a great mattress, and went on with my life.

The next thing that fell into place was my professional life. Following my divorce, there was a decade where I held four different jobs and moved four times in an effort to stay near my kids and get my career back on track. When I finally landed in my current position, it took several months to relax into the notion that, actually, I felt perfectly fine driving into work each day. I began to notice the absence of dread, and stopped having fantasies about snow days or car trouble or the stomach flu.

There were other contributions, of course. My divorce. My astonishing new husband. Prozac. Mindfulness. Exercise. The support of my friends. My point is that it wasn’t just one thing, and it didn’t happen overnight. And it didn’t just happen. It took years and years of sorting things out, therapy, and allowing enough time to pass so that I could trust in the idea of peace again.

These days, I find myself struggling to fill the brain space I used to spend fretting. I’ve started listening to books on Audible, and podcasts, and music. I’m writing again, and training for longer and longer runs. I’m no longer hanging out at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, trying to white-knuckle it through another day. I’m not just surviving; I’m thriving

Isn’t that what peace looks like?

We live in a culture of quick fixes and easy solutions. Diet plans, pills, breakups, hookups, self-help books, vacations, alcohol. I’m not saying any of those things are terrible; they’re just not going to bring you peace—at least not the kind that lasts. While it’s tempting to imagine that there’s something out there—that one thing, Bang!—that will bring us peace, the truth is actually a lot more encouraging.  

Take inventory. Add all of the quiet things up. You might find that peace has snuck up on you, too.


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