Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Places of Peace

Peace is an interesting concept.  Most of my life, even when I was in the corporate world, I worked towards  providing peace to the world, because there are so many who need it and want to find it. I always thought about it broadly, peace for groups of people, not for distinct individuals. 

One night my wife, Karen, came to me and asked, “What does peace mean to you?  Where do you go to find peace?”  I could not answer her. Somewhere along the line I was moving so fast that I stopped thinking about what peace meant personally to me. She said, “It occurs to me you are never alone. There is no quiet in your life. We talk about things that happen in this town but you have no idea what we are talking about because you’re never home. You’re always working or traveling.” That year she and my children conspired to give me one of the best birthday gifts ever. On that morning she handed me my fishing pole and tackle box. I said, “I get to go fishing, huh?”  She shook her head. “No. You get to go and find some peace. I have booked you into a hotel. For the next two days you get to go and explore where you live; do whatever you want. You can fish, walk around town, have a drink at Quigley’s, or just sit and write. For a day and a half you get to be alone and do whatever you want. All we ask is that you do find peace and then keep doing it.”   It was the best weekend ever. It made me realize that no matter what the demands were on my time and attention I needed to take time for myself to find some peace.

After that I made a conscious effort to take some time in my busy day to find a place near my office where I could go and be away from the madness for a short while. One of places I found was in the Art Institute. On Tuesdays when it was a “free” day I would eat lunch at my desk and then go to the museum. I would enter and then go directly to modern section and sit for awhile looking at the Chagall mosaic called “America Windows” and think. For some reason I found it very calming. This is it.

On other days, especially in autumn, I would walk through different parts of Grant Park and wander amongst the trees and gardens. When we moved our office to South Wacker Drive, I would go sit by the river and eat the sandwich I brought from home. Later on when I changed jobs I would either walk the Gold Coast neighborhood where my office was or, if I had time, take a cab and go look at the lake from Olive Park. I kept my promise to my family that I would always find a place of peace.
Recently at a high school reunion I reconnected with an old friend, Dan Biver. He was always great to me. I ran against him and another girl, Patti, for our high school student council presidency. When I won Dan ran up to me, wrapped his arms around me, and lifted me up in the air. Thirty plus years later he is still a great man. He is a talented architect now but more importantly he is a man clearly comfortable in his own skin. I love looking at the pictures he frequently posts on Facebook of the place he goes to in Michigan. He always looks happy. That house on the lake is obviously a place of joy and peace for him. A couple of days ago he posted this picture.

I thought it was interesting that this alley of elms was one of the places I used to walk when I worked in the city. Like Dan, I assume, this alley was a place of peace for me. That got me thinking even more about places of peace, about how sometimes those places are the same for people and sometimes they’re very different

Subtly, I started looking into where people I know find their peace, their joy. For some it is their work; others find it in running or sports. For some it is being outside walking or hunting in the woods. For some it is creating things of beauty. For others it is being in a church and contemplating God, or sitting in a library exploring literature and learning. For most it is being with their families, and their friends.

Tonight I started musing about my current personal places of peace. Now that I am out of corporate America and work out of my house, it is easier to find those places. They exist right next to me and I can take advantage of them anytime I want.  Every day I take time to walk my neighborhood with my dog or to go down by the DuPage River or one of its branches to sit and write. Sometimes I am alone or there are other people there. Like the Chagall windows, watching the water run by somehow gives me comfort.

I realized that the most important place of peace for me is my house. For so many years I was never home. Now I am home all of the time and although there is still stress in my life, I know that somewhere in one of the rooms of this building I will always find peace. It might be cooking in the kitchen, which I greatly enjoy, or talking with my family at the kitchen table. It might be watching television, with my football obsessed wife, reveling in her company, or talking with my sons and their friends around a bonfire. It might be reading in my home office upstairs all alone, sitting in the rocking chair that I inherited from my grandmother. Sometimes it is just talking to my daughter in the car as I drive her to whatever activity she has or bringing her back home. I like it when it is just the two of us. I always forget whatever might be troubling me that day, because she is clever, witty, and fun. I always laugh. In my former life there were moments, but I didn’t laugh much. Now I do all of the time.

The one place I find the most peace is in the studio I built in my garage. It is where I write and make collages. Even though winter is approaching the swallows that live in my front bush still come to visit. So do a lot of other people who I welcome into my world.  There is a guy that lives down the block that I hardly know but every day when he goes out running , he stops by for a couple of minutes to rest and talk. In the garage studio I can play my music on the radio or Ipod and get lost in my mind for awhile. The garage has a couple of comfy couches where I can sleep when I need to, which because of the medicine I take for Parkinson’s, happens sometimes. I know Karen thinks it’s crazy but sometimes this is where I lie down for the night.  During the day and sometimes, when the weather is warm, at night I keep the garage door open so I can look out at the world; the changing of the seasons. I pull up the gliding chair I got at an estate sale and watch the rain. This is something I hadn’t done in a long time. It is nice.

I highly encourage everyone to look for or examine those places of peace that are important to you. In the world we live in today, no matter what our struggles and challenges are; no matter how broken we feel, finding places of peace and joy in your life is imperative.  If you can’t seem to see them, talk to someone who can help you to. Sometimes I remember those days when I thought I would go mad because I couldn’t find quiet; I couldn’t find peace of mind. No one should have deal with that. Now that I have places of peace, I know that I’m never going back to where they are absent.