Friday, March 29, 2013

For Goodness Sake

Let peace begin with me. 
Let this be the moment now. 
With every breath I take 
Let this be my solemn vow.
I didn't give up anything for Lent this year. Growing up Catholic, I've participated in this annual rite with equal parts enthusiasm and dread since I can remember. Recently, I gave up Facebook for two straight years. (I'm on it a lot.) Two years ago I gave up chocolate. Last year it was swearing. (Success was relative.) I would approach this as an annual test of my resilience and willpower. Like most people I know, I never had a problem sharing what I was sacrificing with anyone who didn't ask. And that's why I hesitated this year.



One of the Bible lessons that speaks to me most tells us not to announce our charity "with trumpets," that God will see what we've done in secret and reward us. (Matthew 6:2) Despite the blog you're reading right now, I try to apply that lesson literally. I've gone off script here on DKL recently, tapping into a newfound willingness to share some of my thoughts on faith. Generally, however, I prefer to keep it to myself. To believe but not preach. To, as best I can, live by example. (That's difficult, as I am about to share...)

I believe everything happens for a reason. Sometimes I believe in signs. Over the past few weeks, I've received two what I am going to call "signs" that have led me to where I am today and provided me with a new way of approaching faith, and life. A mantra, for lack of a better term. First, during a weekend visit to my sister's house in Virginia I walked into the kitchen and overheard her talking to My Director about the message in a popular hymn that really gets her emotional. The hymn I quoted above. "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with ME."

Why does it have it begin with ME? That's the question we all want to ask, right? But that is what is asked of us. Being the beginning is one of the most basic and yet most challenging requirements we have as human beings, religious or not. To not act out, speak out, judge, ridicule. Let peace begin with me. Trust me when I say I am making strides. Small strides. To put it in perspective, it has taken me nearly 38 years on my faith journey to recognize this simple tenet and make the conscious decision to apply it.

My second example happened a few days later at the funeral for a friend who died suddenly. After hearing in the homily about a woman who loved everyone, didn't judge, was always willing to help and put others before herself, the last hymn we sang at the mass was the same one my sister referred to a few days earlier, "Let There Be Peace on Earth." Our dearly departed friend let peace begin with her. And we are all better for knowing that and her.
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
On the car ride home from that funeral, I told My Director my intention - my hope - to adopt this new approach... this mantra. Even though I'm writing about it now, I am uncomfortable talking about it without sounding morally superior or judgmental. Without knowing that, she shared this information with her mom shortly after our arrival home. (Her mom was watching Peanut while we were away at the funeral.) Instead of opening up about it, I made a joke. Small strides.

I want to be good. Be better. Be an instrument of peace, as I recently described my dad was to me. While it's difficult, we can find goodness in anything, even in the worst of things. We call today "Good Friday" because we find the good in Jesus' death. He died for us. For our salvation. That God's power was at work through Jesus. That no matter what trials we are faced with, we can trust in His goodness. It is that word, goodness, that echos through my family. For it came from one of our darkest hours.

The night my dad suffered his fatal heart attack, My Director and I were out with friends. My other older sister (I have two sisters and a brother. I am the youngest of four.) was the one to call me with the bad news. She struggled to find the words. I could barely make out what the paramedics were saying in the background. Frustrated, I said, "What's happening?!" Her response was, "Not goodness." Once we were able to laugh again, we eventually came to poke fun at my sister for her Orwellian choice of words. She couldn’t bring herself to say, "Daddy died." Instead, she used a word that doesn't deserve ridicule no matter how harmless. After all, at that moment there was no finding the good in the situation.

My family is still not over my dad's death. Sure, it's gotten easier. But we'll never get over it. But who is to say our pain - my pain - is any worse than that of others? I've struggled to acknowledge, mourn, or empathize with people who were given more time with their loved one than I was given with my dad. Whose parents were elderly when they died when my dad was 59. This is selfish and insensitive on my part. But sometimes it makes me mad. Most of the times, actually. Small strides.

More than ten years later, I still struggle to find the goodness in his death. What good could possibly have come of it? Maybe it's that I've found a way to keep him around and tell my stories about him through my writing. Maybe it's that I am now super conscious of living a healthy lifestyle since heart disease runs so close in my family. Maybe it's to be more of an instrument of peace, like my dad was to me. And to do so while recognizing I am not perfect since neither was he.

Whatever it is, my journey has brought me to the realization that I now want peace to begin with me. Will I still be a snarky jerk at times with the sharp tongue, quick wit, and big mouth? I'm pretty sure I will be. But nobody's perfect. And at least I can say I am trying. Striving for goodness. Small strides.

*I have to thank my oldest sister, to whom Peanut refers as "Zia," whose writing about our sister's "goodness" incident for her church group is included in this post and inspired the rest of it.

6 comments:

  1. How is it that no one has commented on such a lovely, heartfelt post? The innerwebs make me crazy that way.
    I believe in the adage about preaching the gospel at all times, using words if necessary. I worked for decades in the restaurant business, and it was through acts of kindness and honesty that I reached others, not through proselytizing and preaching. Thank you for this post.

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    1. I did get a very nice response on the DKL social media pages. I dunno why there were so few comments here. But I appreciate quality comments over a quantity of them. So thank you for yours.

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  2. This post is just lovely. I admire your desire for self improvement and to lead by example. I just wanted to say this didn't come across as preachy in any way. I think these are struggles many people can relate to and by talking about it you are being an example and open and real. This is about being human. I am glad you wrote it.

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    1. Thanks so much. There is a fine line between preaching and sharing. I'm glad to hear I didn't cross into preaching, at least to you.

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  3. It really does begin with each of us doesn't it? The only person we can control is ourselves. I believe with my whole heart that if each and every one of us made the concerted effort to be the change the world would be an even more amazing place. In the immortal words of Bill Murray in "What About Bob?"... Baby steps... Wishing you the very best in your continued efforts to let it begin with you. :-D

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  4. I was coming over here to see your #SundaySupper budget meal and got caught up in following links, thoroughly enjoying everything I've read. I, too, was raised Catholic, and that song always gave me chills when we sang it. That and "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace. Your great post reminds me of that quote from Mother Teresa, " Don't look for big things, just do small things with great love." That's what letting peace begin with us is all about, don't you think?

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