A friend of mine is a Franciscan priest who remains calm no matter what happens.
We are not alike.
He is compassionate, understanding, patient, and saint-like. He is perfect for his job and does it 24/7; that is, he is one of those rare souls that couldn’t be anything but some sort of man of God. If he gets stuck in traffic, for instance, he keeps it all in perspective. If someone cuts him off, his response remains, “They really must be in a hurry. I hope they’re careful.” Or, “Wow, God bless them and watch over them, they really must be anxious about some appointment.” His is a peaceful soul.
This contrasts directly with my “Use a frigging turn signal, butthead!” approach. When entering a tunnel and the traffic decelerates from sixty to forty, the good Father cares: “Oh, thank our Lord they are all being careful going into this tunnel. It really must be frightening to so many people.” I handle it with my own style: “It’s a tunnel. IT IS A TUNNEL! It is not a brick wall! The Road did NOT shrink! It’s a damn TUNNEL!”
We obviously address frustration differently, which makes me wonder how we ended up this way. Would Monastery-Bob and Professor-priest keep their temperaments in tack? If I lived on a mountain in prayer would I be less likely to want to kill the cashier for not being able to multi-task?
I was like him once, my friend the peaceful priest.
When we met during college we talked a long time about peace and where it comes from. To search for peace in the world is a fruitless act. Even if we find it, it can disappear with war, with stress, with distractions and interruptions. It is like turning to others to find what you want to do with your life; it must come from within. And peace, too, must be a spring, not a shower. I always liked that thought.
I once went to Father’s room and found dozens of people drinking beer and laughing as they told stories about their lives. Afterwards, I said I had a great time and found it strange that I could feel so lost among friends on one day and on another feel so connected and centered. He said, “Bobby—tonight you brought the peace with you.”
Man, he made it sound so simple: Bring the peace with you.
So when some dirtbag student of mine called me an asshole in class, I thought of Father, and how it is never the situation but how we handle it. I could picture him with his wide smile and deep laugh and huge hands on my shoulders telling me I’m going to be just fine. Last week I brought the student into the division office and sat the little bastard’s ass in a chair while I filled out a withdrawal form. Before I could finish the paperwork, however, and before he stopped crying, I decided to give this “peace” thing a shot.
“Are you scared?” He looked at me. “College, I mean, the assignments? Are you worried?”
“I suppose,” he said, calming down.
It took him a long time to answer something other than the moronic, I don’t know. “I’m not a good student. I was never good at school.”
“You get confused?”
“Yeah,” he said, nodding, knowing I hit on his fear.
“Yeah,” I said. “A lot of people do. I know I did. What you might try doing is stepping back a bit. Sit to the side and watch everything from a distance for awhile—get some perspective. Instead of calling me an asshole, ask me some questions.”
“Right,” he said, with not just a little indignation.
Bring the peace, Bob. Bring the peace.
“Sometimes we need to see things from a different point of view.”
He was quiet a long time and I believed I got through to him, and I wondered what he pictured as I recalled sitting in Father’s room listening to stories of scared and lost students like myself still trying to get a handle on our place in the world.
“Wow, thanks for your psycho-babble bullshit, Dude,” he said.
I took a breath, thought of Father, and told the little prick to get out of my site; that Hardees is hiring and someone has to clean the toilets.
It’s a gift, really, knowing one’s place in the world.
I headed home thinking about peace and frustration, fear and anxiety. He’s where he should be, this former student of mine. He’s out in the real world where he can seek out only those challenges he knows he can conquer. He is part of the masses that only face what they’re not afraid of.
Bringing peace to an otherwise hostile environment is a difficult task. Maybe that’s why I, too, often avoid the challenge and wander down country roads, watch the water ebb and flow rather than the anxiety. It’s why I don’t drive during rush hour, avoid fast food restaurants and box store checkout lines. Hell, maybe I’ll just start giving everyone A’s so less people will call me bad names.
Yes. Let there be peace and let it begin with me, Bob the Asshole. I’m going for a walk and I’m bringing my peace with me.