“Peace is joy at rest. Joy is peace on its feet.”–Anne Lamott’s pastor, Veronica
Twelve used to be my favorite number. Before I turned 12, probably. There was something about the number, especially how it was divisible by so many numbers: 2, 3, 4, 6, not to mention 1 and 12. I like my math as easy as possible. No remainders.
It’s amazing that for someone who is so hesitant to share her feelings or give her heart away, I’ll fall in love with inanimate objects, colors, or numbers at the drop of a hat. All it takes is one mediocre memory attached to one item, and I clutch it to my heart. Which is why my bookshelves are packed with trinkets and souvenirs: my memories, myself.
But as quickly as I can love something, it can also be ruined for me. Like the name Stacy and mozzerella sticks, somehow 12 lost its luster for me. Maybe I turned 12 and it wasn’t a great year. Maybe I was counting steps and I tripped on the twelfth. Who knows?
Today was 12/12/12, as the social media universe told us approximately two hundred times. It won’t happen again for 100 years. The overexcited radio DJ this morning informed me that I had to do something memorable at 12:12 pm, and I instantly panicked. What was I supposed to do? Throw something? Kiss someone? How would I possibly commemorate?
(It turns out I just took a screenshot and watched my coworker jump around the hallway. Memorable enough for me.)
So today wasn’t all that memorable on my end, but that’s kind of okay with me. A lot of people are going to remember yesterday as a terribly memorable day, when a shooter opened fire at a nearby mall, killing a father of two and a hospice nurse before killing himself. The shooter was 22 years old.
And a longtime missionary who gave his whole life to the mission field hung himself last week. He was nearing the end of his life’s work, and inexplicably killed himself, out of nowhere, before it was finished. He was 70 years old.
And my dad’s new knee isn’t loosening up as fast as his doctor would like. And one of my best friends had surgery today. And it’s finals week, which means everyone in my small town is tired and a little bit cranky…including me.
It’s almost Christmas. Per Advent, I’m supposed to be somewhere between Peace and Joy. And I’m hovering between Exhaustion and Sadness, even during the “happiest” time of the year.
I’m realizing more and more how important Advent is for grown-ups. Children get Christmas; it’s in their blood. They understand peace, they get hope, they are joy, and love is second nature to them. At some point we lose our natural inclination toward those elements of Christmas.
Maybe it’s when we turn 12.
I’ve always been much better at despair rather than hope, fear rather than peace, apathy than joy. I think even as a child, I drew more pictures of my best pal Jesus on the cross than in the manger. It’s a small wonder my parents didn’t take me to a child psychologist.
I’ve always had this concept of the dark and the light, both together. The cross for instance: painful public death, hope for all mankind. And baby Jesus in the manger: future loss, chubby baby in a food trough.
Maybe in this tension between peace and joy, not feeling like I can grasp either, that’s where I must stay. Recognize that the peace of the soul is not something that can be lost, like the love of a number or a name. It’s a rushing river that fills up my insides—from my stomach to my fingertips—when the outside world is madness.
Joy erupts out of that rushing peace river like little baby fish, twisting and flipping in the air. They could be picked off by a bird at any time—joy is more dangerous and fragile than it knows—but it doesn’t matter. Joy must jump, not because everything in life is rosy, but because the peace that passes all understanding exists and helps us move through the day.
That’s Christmas, isn’t it? One of my literary mothers, Anne Lamott, quotes Wendell Berry as saying, “It gets darker and darker and darker; and then Jesus is born.”
It gets darker and darker and darker; and then Jesus is born.
That phrase is just stuck in my chest, like something that I want to hold onto, like something I can’t let go quite yet. I need it to sit in my river for a while, my peace-like-a-river that’s not rushing very well in this non-peaceful time.
Out of the darkness, in spite of the darkness, because of the darkness, Jesus is born. What peace. What joy.