By: Shannon Ralph
I am sitting at my laptop staring at a blank Word document. I’ve been here for quite a while trying to come up with something to write about for this week’s article. I thought about maybe writing about New Year’s resolutions since ’tis the season. But since resolutions are inevitably doomed to fail, it seems sort of self-defeating to post them to the internet where they will mock me in perpetuity. My children usually provide pretty good fodder for humorous stories, but they’ve been relatively mellow this week. The weather couldn’t possibly be more boring—not a snowflake in sight. Even my dog has been a lazy lump lately.
This writing business is hard.
There are days when the words flow easily. When outrage or agitation fuels my fingers. When a politician or some ne’er-do-well celebrity (sometimes they are one and the same) does or says something so entirely ludicrous that I simply have to write about it. Sometimes a funny story captures my interest. Or an article I read inspires me. There are stories that I simply need to tell. Life experiences that want to be shared.
And then there are days like today. Days when no words come. When I wrack my brain, but absolutely nothing materializes. When no words suffice to describe my current state of mind. When I feel a strange sense of complacent peace that prevents me from railing at the world.
As a mom and a wife and a daughter and a sister and a friend and a coworker, peace is often an illusion. Chaos typically reigns supreme as I, hassled and harried, chauffeur my children from violin lessons to choir recitals to karate classes. As I try to decide which is the worse of two evils—chicken nuggets or frozen pizza—on a busy Tuesday night. As I stress over deadlines at work that loom large in the last weeks of December. As I fret about making the holidays a happy time for my mother who lives alone and struggles with the holidays. As I scramble to find the time to shower and comb my hair and brush my teeth and remain somewhat presentable and odorless despite the bedlam. Peace is often an anomaly. Yet today, nearing the end of a long year, I am finding myself at peace.
That probably sounds strange with everything that is going on in the world right now. Donald Trump as our Republican front-runner, anti-Muslim sentiment infecting our country, refugees languishing overseas as we demonize them on our shores, unsuspecting people—parents, children, friends, neighbors—being gunned down at holiday parties. These seem like insurmountable barriers to peace.
But I have a secret. You may find this hard to believe, but peace is a choice. Peace is a decision. Being at peace is a decision I can make of my own volition every single day. I can choose to focus my energy on the things that make me sad or angry or exasperated. I can choose the mundane and the tragic, OR I can focus my energy on the things that bring me joy. That bring me peace.
Today, I am choosing peace.
This has been a productive, though no less crazy, year for my family. In 2015, my nine-year old daughter discovered karate, her new life’s passion. She has blossomed in both confidence and assertiveness since starting classes this past summer. She even sang a solo in her school choir concert—something my painfully shy little girl would never have done last year. Her twin brother, a child who has suffered from anxiety since birth, is having an unprecedented 4th grade year. He has made friends, is no longer a frequent flyer in the nurse’s office, rarely cries these days, and is doing beautifully both socially and academically. My soon-to-be thirteen-year-old son has grown six inches in the last year, bypassing both me and my wife. He has become this amazingly funny, quick-witted, intelligent kid who I barely recognize. There is nothing he loves more than debating history and politics. His excitement and his goofy zeal for life is contagious. My wife just accepted a new job with a different company after 14 years with her current company. She will begin on January 11th. The new position will allow her to grow professionally and personally and, more importantly, will allow the two of us to work the same schedule for the first time in ten years. No more nights. No more weekends. No more holidays. I will have my wife back and our kids will have their mom back.
That is not to say that my family and I have not faced set-backs this year. It’s the ebb and flow of life, after all. For every up, there is a down. For every graceful stride forward, there is a clumsy stumble backwards. It’s a fact a life. And it’s easy to focus on the set-backs rather than the successes. Who has not found themselves succumbing to the lure of stress at times? I certainly have cried into my wine glass on more than one occasion. But I am making a choice today to seize peace. To grasp it tightly in my fist and not let go.
As I sit here in my favorite ratty chair writing this, my dog is cuddled up against my thigh. My kids are enjoying their holiday break thoroughly engaged in their various electronics. My wife is napping on the couch. No one is talking—everyone is wearing ear buds, of course—but we are all in the same room. An intense quiet fills the air as the Christmas tree lights twinkle in the corner. Our handmade stockings are hung by the chimney with care. Everything may go to hell in a moment or two, but right now, right here, I am at peace. And I feel a humbling sense of gratitude for these people who I love intensely. For this little house that keeps us warm and dry. For this ratty chair with my butt imprint permanently indented in the cushion. For the gifts that “magically” appear beneath our tree every year. For the hot coffee in my favorite mug. For the cards, well wishes from friends far and wide, adorning my mantle. For the grunts and snores of my old dog. I am filled with an astounding sense of harmony that causes everything else to pale in comparison. It may not be good for my writing career, but it sure feels pretty damn great.
This is peace.
This is my one and only New Year’s Resolution.
And this is my wish for you in 2016.
Happy New Year!