I once thought that I needed a place like Zürich, Switzerland or Marin County, California to find peace. I had to have beauty like you see on my Instagram feed. I thought I needed wildflowers, wandering trails, snowy mountains on the horizon. I thought I needed sensational places to run, ski, hike, to explore.
But eight years ago when I started photographing and writing my way through my seemingly impossible challenges, I found that peace isn’t necessarily found in the sensational. I can race up an alpine trail, barely aware of it’s complex beauty. I can run across the Golden Gate bridge steeped in stress, worried about a child’s health problems, a relative’s anger, a friend’s sadness.
I can attend a fabulous looking party on a beach on the Long Island Sound, crowded with beautiful people, and I can feel terribly lacking, decidedly alone. I can go to the most incredible church, stain-glass windows glimmering, and there I am. I am me— thinking of the next week’s schedule, worried about the health of my family, how we’ll sell our home, when I’ll finish my novel.
But then there’s peace.
Peace comes with small observations.The weeds, the colors of the sky, the edges of trees lacing out to somewhere quiet, somewhere good. It comes with the slowing down, the bending in, the peering closely at that less sensational thing. The girl unnoticed. The mom quiet. The old man on the bench with something wise to say. It comes in a dandelion, a wild strawberry, a print made by a fox. Peace comes to me walking to the pool alone, listening to the sound of a bird I’ve never heard. It comes as I watch the light changing over a rooftop, a field.
Peace comes in an unplanned conversation as I talk to an old friend. We aren’t at a hip bar, aren’t doing something spectacular. We’re sitting on a curb maybe. We’re messaging on Facebook. But she tells me what hurts, what she needs, whom she truly is. She tells me that I can make a difference to her, that we are connected.
Peace comes when my daughter, my husband, my son my sister smiles, not a perfect smile, but a real one that lights the cheeks, shimmers in the little lines in the eyes, lifts the whole countenance. It isn’t made for a camera. It’s for me, for a moment made of growing, learning, struggling, living.
Peace comes with simple words. It’s there in a small word like “love” or “sorry.” It’s in a big one like “forgiven” or “happiness” or “contemplation.” Peace could be a scribble, a note, a text to that person I forgot yesterday, whom I can touch today. Peace comes in a kind message from a friend, changing my day, reminding me that I’m not alone.
Peace comes when I stretch my body, mind, when I challenge every muscle. I can’t find peace talking to people on the tan, bland surface. I can’t find it consuming, living for popularity, material stuff. It comes with meaningful conversations, with attempts to make a positive impact. Peace comes when I visit a refugee or homeless shelter, when I run along an old beat-up road, when I bike up any hill, when I sweat in a basement gym, when I swim in cold water. It always comes.
Peace comes when I let myself be, when I don’t compare myself — to anyone. It comes when I don’t try to please, when I forgive myself for acting like a dumb ass. It comes when I allow the tears, the time alone, when I tell someone simply— I need you. Peace comes when I know that no friend or sister or mother or father is remotely perfect. It comes when I release expectations, admitting that I can’t hear God some days, that I’ve failed, again, but I'm still here.
Peace arrives when I listen.I listen to a different opinion, to someone else’s words, to the sound of my home, my children talking, my husband singing, the morning galloping along out the window— when I hear the quiet thrum of my body, alive.
Peace comes, anywhere, if we let it. It comes on a cold dark night after a car slides down a mountain. It comes in the smile of a mom in a beaten-up refugee shelter, in arms around me in tiny room with a child depressed, in a rough hand in mine after a loved-one has passed. It always comes.
Peace be with you.