Saturday, September 24, 2011

Peace Be With You

If you ever came to church with me, there's a bit of the service where the Pastor says "Peace be with you," and the congregation responds, "And also with you." He continues, "And now let us share this peace of the Lord with one another." So we all rise, turn to our neighbours, smile, shake hands and say "Peace be with you."

It's a bit funny to see someone who isn't used to this prescribed greeting, and visibly feels awkward or embarrassed. They sort of glance away, maybe mumble a half-hearted "You too" in response to your smiling greeting.

Sandy came to church with me a few times - once to become my daughters' godmother - and each time she did the cutest little self-conscious giggle when she shook my hand. "And also with you!! Hee hee!"

I remember feeling this way as a young girl, the first time I went to a church where there was a "shake hands with the person next to you" moment...I hated it. I felt like no one would approach me, or if they did I wouldn't know what to say and they'd think I was weird, or stupid. So instead, I decided THEY were weird and stupid. You know - for saying "Good morning" to each other in church. Fatuous idiots.

When I started going to the church I attend now - Lutheran - it took me a couple of Sundays to figure out that there was a loosely prescribed order to the proceedings: they would say "Peace be with you!" and I was meant to say "and also with you." I wasn't sure of this, so I smiled and said "You too" for the first two or three weeks, then sat down feeling oafish. After a couple of weeks I forced myself to say the expected words. I felt silly at first, offering the greeting or the response, but before long it felt okay.

Then it felt sort of natural.

Then it felt like I meant it.

Now, after that five minutes of the service, when everyone has smiled into my eyes and said "Peace be with you!" and I have replied, fondly, "And also with you", I feel it.

I feel peace.

I have been thinking a lot about the deliberateness of emotion. When I was younger I always thought emotion led to the action - so anger led to aggression, love led to being loving, and so on. I hated that trend I started to notice in my 20s - the "love is a decision" fad. If you don't feel it, I always thought to myself, you don't feel it - and that's that.

The part I didn't understand was the transience of love. The way it comes and goes. Sometimes, as a child, let's face it: you hate your sister. I mean, really hate her. You don't love her. And it's possible, as a parent, to wish your children would go away. Really wish it. Wish they weren't your problem anymore...ever. And sometimes you stop loving your spouse because the relentlessness of marriage has stripped away the sparkle and the humour...the new car smell is gone, you've spent too long in there being tired and crabby and impatient, and now it's just endless fill-ups and washer fluid and the console is stuffed with receipts and fast-food napkins.

Twenty years in, I know a bit more about relationships. I know a bit more about myself. I understand that emotions describe a circular path, not a linear one...and that you can jump on at any point in the circle.

Loving someone doesn't have to begin with the feeling. It can begin with the action: the verb use of the word. "I love you" doesn't always mean "I feel love for you." It can mean "I promise I will stay with you" or "I'll never send you away" or "I give you what you need." It can mean "I do all of this for you, without resentment."

You can train your emotions. You can love someone - the verb - and it can, wait: it IS...Love, the noun.

Mothers intone, "Be nice!" to their toddlers. This is the earliest training we get -- our mothers are telling us "I know you don't want to act this way - you want to act another way. You want to snatch things, to hit and to dominate your playmates. But you must DO niceness even when you don't FEEL niceness."

Life is full of these decisions. It takes discipline to implement them; real self-discipline to continue practicing them. They are the basis for civility.

Do love, and you will feel love.

Be gentle, and you will become gentle.

Practice patience, and your patience will increase.

All actions require practice. The first time you did anything, it was hard. Walking. Speaking. Riding a bike. Climbing a mountain. Painting a wall. Changing a diaper. Doing yoga. It only got easier as you became familiar with the mechanics of it, and your brain and your muscles learned how to do it, and then it became second nature.

On Sunday morning I shake hands with about twenty or thirty people; the ones on my side of the church. Each of them leans towards me, offers their hand, and a genuine smile as they say with friendliness, or gentleness, or humour, or quiet firmness, or with love, "Peace be with you." And I lean towards them, return the pressure of their hands, and say with fondness, eye contact and a smile, "And also with you."

The order of greeting has become my choice, and theirs, and what we are giving is what we receive: just what we are offering each other. Peace.

Sandy has been gone for a year. I've written about the way I have grieved for her, and I've said everything I want to say about that. During the past year I explored the process of grief, and practiced and observed the rituals of sorrow.

Some people "claim" a word for a given year, and meditate or dwell on that word throughout the year. Last year my word would have been Sorrow. This year I think my word will be Joy. I'm going to practice Joy and I'm going to practice Peace. I have held Sandy, I have thanked her for being in my life, and I have let her go.

Sandy, Peace be with you. What I give to you, I also receive....peace.

And to you, my patient readers, I offer my grateful thanks. I don't think it's easy to analyse and explore death and grief as I've been doing this year, so I thank you for reading and for writing. The dialogue with you has been such a gift to me.

What you wish the world to be, you must be. What you wish your world to have, you must give it.

What you wish to feel, you must do.

So. From me, to you.

Peace be with you.


Gwen said...

And also with you.

(And I mean that.)


Baba Yaga said...

And also with you. (I have a feeling it's an art you quietly cultivate. Your posts in this year have a quality to them which I've treasured, as a mere reader from afar.)

Also, thank you.

Brenda said...

And also with you.

Excellent post with lots to think about Shannon.

Flemisa said...

And also with you.

I appreciate the opportunity to meditate on what can be a routine part of the service yet should be (and can be) a very important and renewing part.

Your honesty and openness in all your post has shown a great deal about you and Sandy. I am thankful you had each other and you have shared the journey and memories with us, your readers.

Belinda said...

Oh, Shannon, how I loved this post. It made me sure that I should not have even noticed the empty Cornflake packet left on the dish rack this morning, let alone drawn someone's attention to it. It is such a small thing to put it into the recycling for someone I love. He does so much for me. Yes, love is a verb.

Anna said...

And also with you.

I have cried along with your posts all year, grieving for my own friend, and I am looking forward to sharing this year of joy.

Valerie said...

and also with you!

I knew you were Lutheran as soon as you started with that. We used to have a pastor that used gentle humor around our responsiveness to show us who we are.

Lovely post, Shan. Bless you in the year of Joy!! And as I read this, it occurs to me that you starting the New Year with those who celebrate Rosh Hashanah....Happy New Year...

Mel said...

And also with you.


Cindy B. said...

As an Anglican, we have the same part of our service. And you are rig ht, at first it feels odd but it grows on you after a while.

When you were talking about how things mean something different to different people, I won't tell you how old I am but... I remember this song from my teenage years. It is by Mashmakhan:

A child asks his mother do you love me
And it really means will you protect me
His mother answers him I love you
And it really means
You've been a good boy
And as the years go by
True love will never die

At seventeen a girl says do you love me
And it really means will you respect me
The teenage boy answers I love you
And it really means
Can I make love to you
And as the years go by
True love will never die

I will love you forever
I will love you forever

At sixty five his wife says
Do you love me
And it means I'd like to hear it again
Her husband says to her I love you
But it really means I love you till the end
And as the years go by
True love will never die

Now you're asking me if I love you
And it really means will I marry you
And I answer yes I love you
But it really means that I won't be untrue
And as the years go by
True love will never die

I will love you forever
I will love you forever

Anonymous said...

And also with you.

We did that in the Episcopal church I was raised in, it was always one of my favorite parts of the service.

Many thanks for your courage in sharing your grief with us this year. You inspire me.

Kasie said...

And also with you.