Living Columns & Blogs

Our Lives: Peace, love, joy

Susan Rountree.
Susan Rountree. jleonard@newsobserver.com

My Christmas cards were supposed to be early this year. We took the picture in August, though I never got around to ordering them. But the big day looms, so I browsed online designs until I found the perfect one to express my sentiments for this year. PEACE LOVE JOY it reads, framing my grown kids’ faces. It’s what our year brought: An engagement. A promotion. Beach time. A new baby cousin. Good health. Meaningful work. The blessings of friends.

Each year my family sends a tongue-in-cheek Christmas letter, inspired years ago when a friend filled hers with the stellar accomplishments of her child. I looked at mine as they sat in the same chair watching television, elbowing each other over the remote control and thought: Someone has to tell the truth about this!

And so for years I’ve tried to poke fun at our foibles. Sailboat mishaps, overwrought weather watching, the “oops” moments of our lives, lest we get too puffed up.

I’ve been thinking about this year’s letter for weeks, though no words have hit paper yet.

And then, well, Paris. And San Bernardino. And writing funny didn’t seem right.

Since the shootings, as news stations flash the shooters’ faces on the screen like Facebook profile pics, I think about a small baby now in the hands of strangers, whose parents brought her into the world, knowing, it appears, how their anger toward her birth country would play out.

I think, too, of a different Muslim face – a young woman I met three years ago, when my father lay dying in the hospital. I don’t know her name, but she was part of the lift team – along with a young black man in dreadlocks and a white co-worker – who traveled the floors, lifting and turning patients who couldn’t move themselves. She called my father Pop B like his grandchildren and had a Southern accent to match mine.

While Daddy tried to recover, my mother ended up in the hospital, too, and on a particularly long and troubling day of walking literally miles between their rooms, I recognized her al-amira headdress in the hallway. When she saw me, the young woman stopped to ask about Daddy, and within seconds, I was weeping as I told her the story of having two parents in the hospital. She took my hands, saying she had been praying for my family. What a humbling moment that was.

Hers is the face I think about when someone says the word Muslim. That day I learned that she was studying to be a physician’s assistant, to save lives.

On Sunday, my friends and I sat in the pews, hearing what we already know – the world is an angry place because those on the edges feel lost. At lunch, our conversation swirls with talk of what’s left undone for Christmas and the plans to pull our kids around us, however briefly this year.

Despite our sadness, and fear, really, we are talking, my friends and I, about our relationship with others in this country, and what we might do to change it. It’s a first step toward love, no matter which side you’re on.

But then, we segue to what feels like a cosmic shift in how people view each other in this world, where some politicians spew on about who is not welcome – and the unwelcome sometimes murder strangers.

Sometimes.

If you believe the story, and I do, about another young non-Christian mother living on the edges, there is hope in it. She probably felt lost, at first, but she looked into the eyes of her baby with joy, and chose to raise him into a man who urged us all to fold those on the edges into our arms and give them respite.

His anger, when he showed it, was aimed at those who did little to help.

Like me, it turns out. And maybe you, too. Sure, I give money to dozens of causes that serve all those on Jesus’ list, but in truth, I never stop to hear the story of that man at the stoplight holding the sign that reads: Help me.

Despite our sadness, and fear, really, we are talking, my friends and I, about our relationship with others in this country, and what we might do to change it. It’s a first step toward love, no matter which side you’re on.

Christmas will happen. There will be lights and gifts and music, good food and family. May there also be PEACE. JOY. LOVE.

Susan Byrum Rountree is director of communications at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. She blogs at writemuch.blogspot.com and can be reached at susanbrountree@gmail.com.

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